Tom Scudamore and Thistlecrack head to victory at ChepstowPICTURE: Getty Images
Thistlecrack makes perfect chase debut
THISTLECRACK made his highly-anticipated chase debut at Chepstow on Tuesday and the reigning World Hurdle champion did not disappoint with a fluent display and several eyecatching leaps.
Unbeaten last season in five starts, the clamour for the eight-year-old to switch from hurdles to fences began a few seconds after he crossed the line at the Cheltenham Festival back in March and he showed plenty of aptitude for his new discipline as he sauntered to a four length win.
Jockey Tom Scudamore said: "He can do things other horses can't dream of. He's phenomenal."
Coneygree showed that novice chasers can win the festival highlight when triumphing in 2015, and Thistlecrack, who started Tuesday as a 6-1 favourite for the Gold Cup, is now as short as 4-1 off the back of his Chepstow victory.
Tom Scudamore: "He's phenomenal"PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
However not all firms were rushing to cut Thistlecrack, with Coral leaving him unchanged at 6-1 for Gold Cup glory.
Spokesman John Hill said: "Despite it being a very smooth transition to fences for Thistlecrack on his Chase debut, we don't feel it was enough for us to go any shorter on the horse winning the Gold Cup next year."
The 2017 Gold Cup: a race for the ages?
This season's festival highlight already has the makings of a barnstormer, with all the market leaders classy, but not completely infallible.
Thistlecrack (Best price 6-1)
Last season's staying hurdle sensation has served notice he could be just as good over fences, but he is only a novice chaser.
Was expected to run in the Gold Cup last year until a controversial late switch to the Ryanair, which he dominated. High-class, but has to conclusively prove stamina.
Don Cossack (10-1)
Last season's winner so has the form and quality, but suffered a tendon injury and January return is subject to no setbacks otherwise retirement beckons.
Cue Card (11-1)
But for a fall three out, Colin Tizzard could be trying to defend the Gold Cup as Cue Card was travelling strongly when coming down. Could he make amends this season?
The 2015 Gold Cup hero pounded his rivals into submission from the front, but has not been seen for nearly a year and needs to prove he is still the star he was before injury intervened.
Cheltenham the next target
Trainer Colin Tizzard said: "It was a beautiful performance."
Next up is likely to be a trip to Cheltenham for the Open meeting, Tizzard said.
"If we're going to go the Gold Cup then we need to know he jumps round Cheltenham. The plan was two novice chases then the Feltham at Kempton.
"He needs another novice, but he's not a five-year-old, he's had plenty of hurdle races. After that [Cheltenham] I think you could do what you wanted."
Scudamore was equally enthused and added: "He was fantastic, didn't he wing the last."
Thistlecrack's technique: slick and stylish
Thistlecrack approaches the third lastPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Taking off...PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
...and overPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
It was hard to find fault with Thistlecrack's chasing debut, as he jumped with the kind of nous associated with seasoned handicappers.
Having met several of his fences on a great stride, he got in tight on a couple of occasions, notably at the fifth-last, but effortlessly corrected his stride to clear the obstacle cleverly.
At the next fence he really stood off and soared over in tremendous style, and when runner-up Aqalim came to challenge before the last he quickly burnt off that rival without coming off the bridle.