Cheltenham: Thistlecrack can rule the World

Red Hand

THISTLECRACK looks absolutely bombproof in the Ryanair World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old progressed at a rate of knots last season and this campaign he has stamped himself as the pre-eminent staying hurdler bar none. The fact he is not odds-on everywhere is probably down to the fact he is not trained by a powerhouse stable like Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson - yet come the end of the week Tizzard could be celebrating wins in two of the four championship events with Cue Card still to come.

He was getting the better of Alpha Des Obeaux when that one fell at Aintree in the Sefton last April, so it is hard to see him turning the tables. He was then unlucky behind Killultagh Vic at the Punchestown Festival. Those two runs also answer the question about ability to handle quicker ground.

This season has been a procession and at Newbury, Ascot and Cheltenham, he has simply looked in a different league to anything the staying hurdling division can offer and it is probably Ireland’s weakest discipline, too. It would be no surprise were he to run in the Gold Cup next year, given he is already eight, and he appears cut from the Dermot Weld cloth in being a stayer with speed.

The Ryanair Chase is much more of a cloudy picture but it may be worth hoping the step up in trip can help Vibrato Valtat return to winning ways. On his only outing over further than two miles this season in the Haldon Gold Cup he looked much more at home, cruising to victory.

Since then he has been banging his head against the best two-milers and while he has not been disgraced behind Sire De Grugy, Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux et al, he would not win a Champion Chase. He will be within his comfort zone at this trip and may have just sneaked under the radar.

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Zabana was all the rage for the JLT Novices’ Chase after making a winning chasing debut at Leopardstown over Christmas, but he failed to handle the really testing ground on his only other run since in the Flogas Novice Chase.

He meets the winner of that race, Outlander, but back on a decent surface he may just have more pace than the Willie Mullins-trained runner. We know he is better on nice ground as he was only narrowly touched off in the Coral Cup 12 months ago by Aux Ptits Soins and proved that was no flash in the pan when third to Jezki at Punchestown. While he may lack the experience of some in this, he has the advantage of being fresher.

Charlie Longsdon has always thought the world of Our Kaempfer and he finally gets the chance to prove his worth in the Pertemps Network Final. Only 13 lengths behind Thistlecrack in Grade One company last season, his mark of 139 looks extremely lenient on that form. Not seen since November, he was still travelling well when falling too far from home in the ‘Fixed Brush’ Hurdle at Haydock to suggest where he might have finished.

Stilletto finally got his act together at Leicester last time out and while he has a 10lb rise to overcome, he needed it to get into the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate. Highly thought of for previous connections, he began the season bumping into the smart Rock The Kasbah and while initially it looked like he struggled on chasing debut at Catterick, the second is rated 139 now.

His four-length second to Violet Dancer now looks much better than it did at the time and he would have hacked up next time out but for falling before his easy win. In truth, we do not know how good he is yet.

If the rumours are to be believed, Rich Ricci may as well be presented with the trophy for the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle for his Limini now. The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir is more competitive, though, in which Ben Pauling’s Silvergrove can cap a fine season for the young handler.


Thistlecrack (3.30pm, Cheltenham)
Double: Vibrato Valtat (2.50pm, Cheltenham)
Treble: Zabana (1.30pm, Cheltenham)
Yankee: Our Kaempfer (4.10pm, Cheltenham)

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