Thistlecrack is back!
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) 8 January 2018
Thistlecrack has been one of the most talented horses to compete on the National Hunt, although injuries have held back his potential to accumulate honours. None more so than at Cheltenham Festival where he has competed only once during his six-year career.
The 11-year-old has pedigree and claimed a fine victory on his only appearances at the Festival. Colin Tizzard put his charge forward for the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2016. He was the overwhelming favourite for the event with Tom Scudamore in the saddle. Thistlecrack duly delivered with a flawless performance to win the race by seven lengths ahead of Alpha Des Obeaux. The bay gelding has reeled off impressive victories and was named British National Hunt Horse of the Year in 2016 for his performances, but has not managed to kick on and establish a lasting legacy.
However, he could right those past wrongs at the Cheltenham Gold Cup where he has been backed as an outsider for the crown. He will be facing a talented field, including last year’s winner Native River. Thistlecrack does have the talent to match his rivals and could be the surprise option should he rekindle his form from three years ago.
From November 2015 to December 2016, Thistlecrack was arguably the best horse on the National Hunt. He won nine races on the bounce, including the Cleeve Hurdle, Stayers’ Hurdle and perhaps his crowning achievement the King George VI Chase. Tizzard’s charge faced off against a talented field on Boxing Day 2016, including his stable-mate Cue Card. However, he bested them all with a brilliant display to take the title by three-and-a-quarter lengths.
His problems began at the Trial Cotswold Chase when he finished second, narrowly behind Many Clouds. However, a tendon injury would rule him out of Cheltenham Festival and he would not return for another 11 months. Thistlecrack made his return for the defence of his King George VI Chase crown, but against horses that were fit and firing, he struggled to compete.
Might Bite had the pace down the stretch, while Tizzard’s charge settled for fourth – four-and-three-quarter lengths behind the winner. The injury bug would strike the bay gelding once again, suffering a fracture that ruled him out of Cheltenham for the second year on the bounce, with another 11 months off the track.
— Racing Post (@RacingPost) 19 November 2018
The 11-year-old was thrust back into action against elite competition in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park. Gold Cup winner Native River was in the field, while the King George VI Chase champion Might Bite was also present. Thistlecrack made a good effort to keep pace with his contemporaries, and although he made a couple of errors, he still placed in a respectable third behind surprise winner Bristol De Mai and second-place Native River.
Tizzard entered his charge for the King George VI Chase for an attempt to win the crown for the second time. He was pitted against elite company once again, but he rolled back the years with another accomplished performance. He was in position down the stretch for a run for the line, but Clan Des Obeaux had the pace when it mattered the most to close out the win.
Thistlecrack has displayed promise in his performances since his return from his second injury. Whether he has enough left in the tank for one final attempt at Cheltenham Gold Cup glory remains to be seen, although it would be fitting to see him go out on a high note.