Scu relishing Crack ride but O'Brien not running scared of Thistle clash
Tom Scudamore is relishing the opportunity to get back on one of the biggest and brightest names jump racing possesses, but Fergal O'Brien – the high-flying trainer of smart mare Colin's Sister – is not running scared of a clash with Thistlecrack in Friday's Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Off since his second to Many Clouds in January's Cotswold Chase, Thistlecrack is the 4-1 second favourite for the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton on December 26 and heads the betting with Sizing John for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Trainer Colin Tizzard and son Joe have favoured a return to hurdles for their star's comeback following his tendon injury, which forced the nine-year-old out of the spring festivals.
Regular jockey Scudamore, who won Friday's Grade 2 on Thistlecrack in 2015, said: "I'm very excited and I'm just looking forward to getting back on him. I've got no concerns, this is the best race for him. It's the best opportunity for him. He's had the best part of a year off the track and it will be nice to go on from Newbury. It's the ideal race for him.
"Since his last run I've only sat on him around Wincanton when he galloped recently. I think I've only sat on him five times outside his races, and that's been to school him over fences. Colin and Joe know exactly where they are with him and if they're happy I'm happy. And they've told me they're very happy with him."
The Tizzards believe running Thistlecrack at Newbury will ensure he is in the best possible physical condition for the King George 25 days later.
“He’s ready to go," Colin Tizzard said on Monday. "He’s fit enough to do himself justice and we get the 6lbs off Unowhatimeanharry.
"This is what he was running in the year before last and we know he’s going to have a race, but we can’t be going for the King George off the back of schooling gallops or anything like that. We need it all.”
Bristol De Mai emerged as a King George and Gold Cup player with a comprehensive victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday and Scudamore added: "You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself. We'll see how Friday goes. And if it goes well that will determine the course of his season.
"It’s a very strong division. Bristol De Mai seems like he's been here forever, but he's only six. He was very good around Haydock last year when he won the Peter Marsh. His form tailed off a bit from there, but he's probably a better, stronger horse now. I was very impressed with him in the Betfair Chase. But there's still plenty more water to go under the bridge before the King George."
Whether Thistlecrack and Bristol De Mai meet Cue Card in the King George remains undecided, with trainer Colin Tizzard wanting to give himself more time before committing to Kempton.
Asked if Cue Card would run in the King George, Tizzard said:
“I don’t know yet. We’ll take a day or two first to think about it.
“He’s absolutely fine. Bristol De Mai won his race and we won the other one. I don’t know how you justify it. Is he 57 lengths better than Cue Card and 66 lengths better that Outlander? No. But he was on that day. The main thing is Cue Card is fine.”
Among Thistlecrack's rivals at Newbury are last year's winner Unowhatimeanharry and Colin's Sister, who has won five of her last six races, including when beating the boys in a Wetherby Grade 2 three weeks ago.
The in-form O'Brien, who trained nine winners last month and is on ten for November already, said: "I've got a super horse to go there with and we'll take our chance.
"She's won a Grade 2 this year and I think if we're ever going to take on the boys in a big race like that, Newbury will be her place.
"It's likely to be hard work on soft, heavy ground and we've always got the option of dropping back to mares' races later down the line."
Thistlecrack is the evens favourite for the Long Distance Hurdle with the race sponsors, with Unowhatimeanharry a 13-8 chance and Colin's Sister a top-priced 16-1 with Betfair.
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