Tizzard: it may be a prep run but Thistlecrack is ready to win
Joe Tizzard reckons the 6lb Thistlecrack receives from last year's impressive winner Unowhatimeanharry in Friday's Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle is "massive" and insists the nine-year-old is fit enough to do himself justice.
Thistlecrack has not raced since his shock defeat at the hands of Many Clouds at Cheltenham in January due to a tendon injury, and the Tizzards have made no secret of the fact that the Newbury Grade 2 is being used as a 'prep' before attempting a repeat of last year's win in the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton.
However, his preparation has gone well and he is reported in good shape for the race, which he won by an identical margin to Unowhatimeanharry 12 months earlier on his way to Grade 1 festival success in the Ryanair World Hurdle.
Tizzard, who assists his father Colin, said: "Thistlecrack is in really good form. Scu [regular rider Tom Scudamore] was in this morning [Wednesday] and he schooled nicely.
"It's a prep run for the King George but he's fit enough to run a huge race and the 6lb he gets from some of them is massive. Thistlecrack hasn't lost any of his ability so I'm confident he'll run a huge race. He's in lovely form and he ticks all the right boxes. He'll very nearly win it."
LONG DISTANCE HURDLE BETTING
Ladbrokes 5-6 Thistlecrack, 13-8 Unowhatimeanharry, 9 Wholestone, 10 Taquin Du Seuil, Colin's Sister, 16 Ptit Zig, 33-1 Beer Goggles, 66-1 Shantou Bob
The team have yet to decide where last year's Hennessy winner Native River will reappear, but they are in no hurry as his return is still the best part of two months away.
It has always been the plan this time to keep Native River fresh for the spring, where the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which he was third to Sizing John in March, is very much the number one target, followed possibly by a tilt at the Randox Health Grand National.
Tizzard said: "He's working hard, but he'll just have one run before the Gold Cup and it won't be until the new year. The chances are that he might go back to Newbury for the Denman Chase, as the timing is right, or else he could probably go to Cheltenham on trials day."
Royal Vacation, a Grade 1 winner of the Kauto Star Novices' Chase after Might Bite fell when holding a long lead at the last, bids to follow in Native River's footsteps on Saturday, and he too fits into the second season chaser mould which seems to excel in the race.
The seven-year-old's novice season ended poorly when he was pulled up twice, but he ran respectably on his return at Wetherby and Joe Tizzard reports him to be in good order.
He gives Paddy Brennan, his regular rider, a chance of another major prize in the Jean Bishop colours in which he enjoyed such success on Cue Card before he was jocked off in favour of Harry Cobden prior to Saturday's Betfair Chase, when the 11-year-old's bid for a fourth win in the race was thwarted by Bristol De Mai.
Tizzard said: "Royal Vacation is in great form. He's not as big a chance as we thought Native River was last year, but he's certainly an each-way chance.
"Wetherby was a prep run for this, and he's come on for it. He schooled well this morning, when Harry Cobden rode him, as he was in. Paddy looks like riding him again on Saturday."
There have been reports that Cue Card would miss the King George, which he won in 2015 and has twice been second, most recently behind stable-companion Thistlecrack 11 months ago. However, while that remains likely, no firm decision has been made yet.
Tizzard said: "We haven't really sat down and discussed it yet, but dad and I spoke briefly and we both wonder if he needs to be going for a red-hot King George when we can pick easier races. It's not definite, but we are not afraid to say that he probably won't be going there."
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