It may still only be mid August but fans of jumps racing are already counting down the days until we start to see some of the stars of the National Hunt world come out to play. Very few horses are higher on the must see list than the brilliant Thistlecrack who was a sensation last year for Colin Tizzard and could perhaps be ready to step up even more this winter.
The 8-year-old was relatively lightly raced going into last season but he simply swept all before him as he went through the campaign unbeaten which was highlighted by a remarkable win in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham. The Colin Tizzard trained horse traveled like a tank at the Festival before pulling well clear of some decent horses in one of the performances of the week and attention is now turning to the future.
With his first run likely to take place in October, there looks to be two potential routes on offer for him this season.......
Can He Do A Coneygree?
Coneygree added his name into the history books back in 2015 when he famously won the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a novice but we could we see that feat repeated just two years later with Thistlecrack?
Colin Tizzard was happy to tell anyone that would listen last spring (even before the World Hurdle) that the he and the owners were keen to go chasing with the horse and given his age (he will be 9 in 2017), it made perfect sense to go straight to the Gold Cup as a novice.
Thistlecrack is yet to jump a fence in public but the thought of him running in the Gold Cup isn't a far fetched one and many are excited at the prospect. There has been no winner of the Gold Cup older than nine since Cool Dawn in 1998 and Tizzard is clearly aware of that history which means that as far as he is concerned, it is now or never for Thistlecrack and the GC.
The bookmakers are certainly staying on the right side of Thistlecrack when it comes to the Gold Cup, in the wake of the Coneygree win 2015, with bet365 currently offering a best price of 8/1 about his chance of winning that one in March.
If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It
Hold on a minute though.
Is this not the Thistlecrack that we saw demolishing the World Hurdle field last March to earn his place at the top of the division?
The World Hurdle is a Championship race at the Cheltenham Festival in its own right and given his dominance last season, there is no reason to think he would encounter any trouble at all this term if he chose to stay over the smaller obstacles. Big Buck's ended up with a pretty decent career staying over hurdles and Thistlecrack is so good that maybe he could get close to emulating the four time winner if his connections decided to keep him in the tried and tested divison.
The advantage of going for the World Hurdle is of course that it is a much easier race and should he end up in that race come next March, the current price of Thistlecrack to win at 4/1 with Paddy Power is likely to be a lot smaller indeed.
All Systems Go For the Gold Cup!
Too many owners and trainers like to play it safe in Horse Racing and that is understandable but the connections of Thistlecrack have made their intentions perfectly clear and there is no reason to doubt them at this stage.
Thistlecrack will start his season at Chepstow in October over fences and provided he takes to the bigger obstacles as he is expected to do, we can expect him to start on the road to the biggest race in the sport.
All trainers and owners know that the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the holy grail and that is exactly why it could be now or never for Thistlecrack. They have the added back up of the World Hurdle as Plan B if the horse doesn't take to fences but a this stage it looks as though it's all systems go for the Gold Cup.