Tony Elves looks back at the highlights of the NH action from the last week.
There was no competition for the highlight of the jumping week in which THISTLECRACK graced us with a slick display of fencing in the two mile seven and a half furlong novices’ chase.
It was hardly surprising that last season’s champion staying hurdler was sent off a 1-6 for the race but the way he took to his fences was a joy to watch as he showed his craft with several breathtaking leaps where he stood off and was launched by Tom Scudamore whilst at the same time being clever enough to put in a short one when required. The experience can only stand him in good stead but there was, at this stage, bookmaker overreaction with his odds for the Cheltenham Gold Cup at biggest 5-1. He can only improve for the experience and he was against no slouch in the shape of Aqalim who was himself rated 152 over hurdles at his best.
However, when you consider that you have Vautour, Don Cossack and the returning Coneygree to contend with you would surely want to see him perform with further aplomb in a few more novice events before taking the plunge at those short odds and connections also have the option of the RSA Chase if there were to decide to take the easier route. Make no mistake Thistlecrack is a very serious Gold Cup pretender and could well prove different class but his odds cannot shorten much more than he is right now after his next engagement and that will arm us with further facts about the fencing ability of Colin Tizzard’s juggernaut.
Stablemate Cue Card went north to Wetherby in search of a second Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase but there was disappointment for the Tizzard team when the King George VI Chase winner could only finished third to the 159 rated Irish Cavalier.
The race could well have been needed but the King’s Theatre gelding is now approaching his 11th birthday and I don’t think there would many rushing to step in and taking the general 10-1 available for the Gold Cup.
Unfortunately one thing we did learn on Saturday at Ascot was that Saphir Du Rheu is not quite the horse that connections had once hoped he would be. His 15 length demolition of Carraig Mor in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April 2015 had given the suggestion that he could one day be Gold Cup material but he slid down the ratings last season to a mark of 152 and wasn’t able to take advantage of that leniency in the Sodexo Gold Cup where he finished third, beaten just over four and a half lengths, to the exuberant Antony from the Gary Moore team. The winner looks the sort that can figure prominently in three mile handicap chases and further light will be shed on his Cheltenham target in due course.
Two horses races are not the most reliable guide to the future but there was particularly eyecatching performance from Seeyouatmidnight in the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle on Sunday. The Sandy Thomson-trained gelding jumped with as much alacrity as you could wish for as he dished out a 12 length victory to Bristol De Mai in the two and a half mile event and will now be taking his chance in Grade 1 events.
Seeyouatmidnight had been suggested last season as an each-way chance for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham when a 25-1 shot, before running his only disappointing race. His trained muted afterwards that the ground last March and the possibility of faster ground at the festival meeting, would deter him from taking up engagements there. The runner-up at Carlisle had found only Black Hercules too good in the JLT Novices’ at the festival, and that at least shows we were not barking up the wrong tree ability-wise last Spring. At least we know we can support Seeyouatmidnight where his chance warrants it in the months to come and won’t have to take a pre-Cheltenham plunge as he is unlikely to take up any engagements there until the last possible moment.