Colin Tizzard happy to leave the cows behind as Gold Cup glory transforms season
After the first race on Friday afternoon – a contest which had gone, like so many this week, to Gordon Elliott – Colin Tizzard spoke for just about the entirety of the British training fraternity when he speculated what sort of future there was in a sport being dominated by two Irish yards.
"I'm bloody worried I'm not going to be here in four years' time," he said. "I'll be home milking the cows."
A few hours later Tizzard was the toast of Cheltenham, having won first the Albert Bartlett with 33-1 shot Kilbricken Storm and then, triumphantly, the Gold Cup with Native River. Yet this was not just a change of fortune in one afternoon, but a change of fortune from a challenging season.
Last season Tizzard was flying high, the coming force in jump racing, with a yard packed to the gunnels with many of the sport's most exciting horses.
In the staying chase division alone Tizzard had Thistlecrack, Cue Card and Native River, who were for a period just about the most exciting trio in that division, while at Aintree he landed a Grade 1 treble thanks to Pingshou, Fox Norton and Finian's Oscar.
Expectations for this campaign were naturally high, but while it has been far short of a disaster – even before Friday's Grade 1 double Tizzard sat sixth in the trainers' championship with more than £1.1 milion won – it has not hit the dizzying heights expected.
The fate of last season's stars reads like the script of a cheap melodrama: Thistlecrack got injured, returned, failed to defend his King George title and is again injured; Cue Card was pulled up in the Ryanair Chase and may well be set for an honourable retirement; Finian's Oscar has singularly failed to live up to descriptions as one of the sport's most exciting novice chasers; Fox Norton, a two-miler, was speculatively pitched into the King George, pulled up, and is now injured; Pingshou has not even run this season.
One by one, the stars of last year have fallen by the wayside: injured, old, or just not quite as good as we thought they were. All, that is, except Native River, who returned to the track in February and with just that one preparatory run came to Cheltenham, where in 2017 he finished third, and with one scintillating round of front-running, lung-bursting, heart-soaring fencing, transformed his trainer's season.
"There's an ebb and a flow, it will change, for no reason," Tizzard, referring to festival fortune, said earlier in the afternoon, back before Native River's heroism changed everything. Then he brought out one of those wonderful little analogies, delivered in that Dorset burr of his, which make him one of the sport's most engaging characters.
"All of us in life get a little bit lucky sometimes," Tizzard said. "You know what it's like, you go to the dance hall and there's a lovely girl there, normally they walk the other way but sometimes they walk towards you."
On this occasion, luck probably doesn't have that much to do with it. Either way, Tizzard's season is back on track, the Gold Cup trophy is in his arms and the future, once again, is bright.
In other words, he's going to have to find someone else to milk those cows.
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