Thistlecrack Has The World At His Feet

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Tom Scudamore hugs Thistlecrack | Racing Post

By Emma Berry

A spotless record this season for the outstanding staying hurdler Thistlecrack (GB) (Kayf Tara {GB}) was further enhanced by his demolition of 11 rivals in the G1 Ryanair World Hurdle on Thursday. Describing his foot-perfect round on the odds-on favourite as “a wonderful thrill,” winning jockey Tom Scudamore said, “How it looked was how it felt. To be able to ride a horse like that, it was very special. I have never ridden anything like him. They were going fast enough in a championship race and, at the top of the hill, there were only three in it and then very quickly there was only one in it. He’s just outstanding.”

Thistlecrack’s dominance ensured that he was seven lengths clear of Alpha Des Obeaux (Fr) (Saddler Maker {Ire}) at the line, with another 22 lengths separating the runner-up and the gallant 11-year-old Bobs Worth (Ire) (Bob Back), the former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who outpointed last year’s World Hurdle victor Cole Harden (Ire) (Westerner {Ire}) for third place.

Now eight, Thistlecrack has accrued an impressive haul this season, with two Grade 1 and two Grade 2 victories to add to last year’s triumph in the G1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. Having raced only once at five and twice as a 6-year-old, all three of those starts coming on the level in bumpers, the gelding has fully repaid the patience shown by trainer Colin Tizzard and owners John and Heather Snook. Since taking to hurdling, he has won seven of his 10 starts.

“He has grown into himself in the last 12 months and has gone from being a very nice horse to being a superstar,” said Tizzard, who combines training with dairy farming from his home in Dorset. He added, “It’s a relief really more than anything. There has been so much hype and pressure in the last few weeks. Every day is another one ticked off. But this just goes to show that you don’t have to be one of the big battalions. Any yard can have a superstar and sometimes these horses find you.”

Thistlecrack is not, however, the only superstar in the Tizzard yard as the stable is also responsible for one of the strong fancies in today’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. The much-loved Cue Card (GB) (King’s Theatre {Ire}) stands to win a £1 million bonus if he manages to land the Cheltenham feature as he has also won this season’s G1 Betfair Chase and G1 William Hill King George VI Chase. The cash prize for claiming steeplechasing’s ‘Triple Crown’ was put up last year by Jockey Club Racecourses in honour of the late Kauto Star (Fr), who won all three races in the 2006-07 season.

St Patrick’s Day Celebrated In Style By Ireland…

Anglo-Irish rivalry is a standing dish at Cheltenham, to the extent that a Betbright-sponsored challenge, known as the Prestbury Cup, now keeps chart of the number of winners from each country. On St Patrick’s Day, the Irish appropriately held the upper hand, with six of the seven winners, and one Irishman in particular continued to enjoy a fantastic run at the Festival, with the week’s leading jockey, Ruby Walsh, taking his all-time tally to a record 52 winners after a treble on the day.

Walsh’s partnership with Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins ensures he has the pick of a mouth-watering array of mounts and the duo has now teamed up in seven winners at Cheltenham this week–just one shy of Mullins’s record, which was set last year. In total, Mullins–who is on course to be leading trainer at the Festival for a fourth consecutive year–is bettered only by Nicky Henderson in the all-time Cheltenham trainers’ standings, his run of success this week lifting him to 48 Festival winners behind Henderson’s 55.

G1 JLT Novices’ Chase winner Black Hercules (Ire) (Heron Island {Ire}) got the ball rolling for the day, with Vautour (Fr) (Robin Des Champs {Fr})–a controversial late switch from the Cheltenham Gold Gup to the G1 Ryanair Chase–and G2 Trull House Stud Mares’ Novice Hurdle winner Limini (Ire) (Peintre Celebre) adding to the spoils.

Mullins paid tribute to his stable jockey, whose Festival successes include four Champion Hurdles and two Cheltenham Gold Cups, saying, “He’s the best jockey I’ve ever had riding for me. From the time I saw him as a seven-pound claimer, he was different gravy and he still is.

“We couldn’t imagine that this would all happen all these years later but I did know that Ruby was going to be a top, top jockey. His first winner for me was a little filly, who was a relation to [JCB Triumph Hurdle winner] Snow Drop (Fr) in an 18- or 19-runner bumper and he came from last to first to win on her. It was a terrific ride and I thought ‘that’s the future’. He just oozes class and he’s always in the right place at the right time in a race.”

Both Vautour and Limini are owned by Rich Ricci, who has been rewarded for his vast investment in National Hunt stock with five winners this week, including both mares’ races and a famous triumph for another mare, Annie Power (Ire), in the G1 Stan James Champion Hurdle.

Britain led the Prestbury Cup for the first two days but with Thursday winners for Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Colm Murphy and five-horse trainer Pat Kelly, Ireland has now taken the upper hand with the tally standing at 11-10.

A rousing St Patrick’s Day celebration was rounded off in style by the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup winner Cause Of Causes (Dynaformer)–a half-brother to Derby winner Kris Kin (Kris S)–who was galvanised from a near-hopeless position by Ireland’s leading amateur rider Jamie Codd to win in the patriotic green-and-gold silks of JP McManus.

Thistlecrack’s Sister Sold To Snooks…

Thistlecrack’s resounding victory, which prevented Irish-trained horses sweeping the board on the third day of the Festival, was followed by the rather unusual occurrence of his full-sister being offered for sale among 20 horses in the boutique Tattersalls Ireland Festival Sale, which took place immediately post-racing in the parade ring.

The 3-year-old filly (lot 5), who was offered unraced but broken-in by her breeders Robin and Scarlett Knipe of Cobhall Court Stud, is the final foal of her dam Ardstown (GB) (Ardross {GB}), who died delivering her. She fetched £165,000 when sold to Thistlecrack’s owners John and Heather Snook, who were accompanied by Colin Tizzard.

“He’s just spent all of our prize-money but he was determined to have her,” said Heather Snook of her husband. “The family has been so lucky for us and we love Kayf Tara. I don’t know whether we’ll have the nerve to race her or not. First of all I need to find a spare stable for her at home.”

Reflecting on Thistlecrack’s victory earlier in the day, she added, “You daren’t let yourself believe it could happen and then, watching it, I couldn’t believe how facile it was. It’s been a wonderful day, I think we’re all still in shock.”

The filly fetched the third-highest price of the sale, which featured mostly winning bumper horses and point-to-pointers. Top of the table at £225,000 was lot 6, the 4-year-old point-to-point winner Timewaitsfornoone (Ire) (Oscar {Ire}), who was bought by agent Gerry Hogan for leading Irish owner Barry Connell.

Hogan commented, “He’s by the same sire as The Tullow Tank (Ire), who won two Grade 1 races for Barry, and he’s a very nice individual with a great attitude. He’ll go to Alan Fleming on the Curragh.”

Harold Kirk, who buys for Willie Mullins, was also in action, signing for lot 8, Monbeg Chitchat (GB) (Kayf Tara {GB}), another winner between the flags in Ireland.

“He’s for an existing owner in the yard,” said Kirk after bidding £200,000 for the 5-year-old gelding. “We also bought Invitation Only (Ire) from [vendor] Donnchadh Doyle. He won his bumper on Sunday and we think a lot of him. Monbeg Chitchat is by the sire of the moment and is from a very good family.”

A total of 14 lots sold during the select session for £1,447,000 at an average price of £103,357.

Transatlantic Challenge Sweetened…

A $500,000 bonus–coined the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge–was announced last year for any horse that could win the Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville, Tennessee and Cheltenham’s Ryanair World Hurdle in the same calendar year, and the incentive was sweetened Thursday when Nashville’s Volunteer State Horsemen’s Foundation raised the prize of their contest by $50,000 to $200,000.

“We saw this as a way to reignite the trans-Atlantic rivalry that has existed since the 19th century, and the Challenge has been very well received,” said Iroquois Steeplechase Chairman Dwight Hall. “Our goal is to offer an international opportunity for horsemen on both sides of the Atlantic. We recognize the expense involved so we raised our purse to make the challenge more attractive.”

He added, “A foreign horse could recoup its travel expenses with a third-place finish in our race, or earn much more if it were to win. Altogether, considering their individual purses and the Brown Advisory Challenge bonus, a successful horse could earn more than $900,000.”

The Ryanair World Hurdle took place Thursday at Cheltenham and was won by Thistlecrack (GB) (Kayf Tara {GB}). The Iroquois Steeplechase is set for May 14. Both are three-mile races.

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