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Picture perfect Thistlecrack has Tizzard team dreaming of bigger and better

Colin Tizzard (left) with Cue Card and Joe Tizzard with Thistlecrack at Venn farm stables in Dorset in November
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Thistlecrack, vying for favouritism for the 2018 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, was reported in perfect shape on Tuesday after recovering from a torn tendon, with assistant trainer Joe Tizzard saying: "He looks a picture and his legs are perfect."

Tizzard said the star chaser, who is a best-priced 6-1 for the Cheltenham feature and shares favouritism with last year's winner Sizing John, has fully recovered from the injury that prevented him from adding to the stable's riches in the spring.

He said: "He'll have two months of gentle road work and be back for Christmas, when the plan is to give him a racecourse gallop before going for the King George again [which he won last year]."

Tizzard added that Cue Card is "burning up our gallops", as battle plans were drawn for big-race targets and a trainers' title assault.

Thistlecrack and Cue Card, along with Native River, featured in an impressive parade of firepower at Colin Tizzard's annual open day – an event that promises to herald an even more potent threat to the established order than last season.

A spectacular first half of the 2016-17 campaign fuelled Tizzard's development into a serious challenger to Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls for championship honours, and if his big-hitters can all stay injury-free this time around there is a good chance the trainer could do even better than last season's third place. 

'He looks absolutely superb'

His prize-money haul of £2,041,055 left him a little more than £800,000 adrift of Henderson, and it came without a victory at the Cheltenham Festival – which Thistlecrack missed through injury –while the stable did not have a runner in the £1 million Grand National, a race Native River has as a possible target this time.

As with Thistlecrack, the King George and Gold Cup are on Cue Card's agenda, and Tizzard said: "Although he's 11, going on 12, he's showing no signs of old age. He looks absolutely superb and is not ready to retire yet. He's burning up our gallops and is in real good form."

While Cue Card fell in last year's Gold Cup, Native River finished a fine third, and both Cheltenham and Aintree – with a four-week gap this season – figure in his plans.

Thistlecrack (Tom Scudamore, centre) and Cue Card (Paddy Brennan, left) pull up after finishing first and second in the King George

Tizzard said: "The main aim will be another crack at the Gold Cup. He'll definitely have an entry for the Grand National too, and he could very well head there after the Gold Cup." 

Colin Tizzard's third place in the trainers' title last term, when he had 57 winners, was achieved with around half the number of individual runners that his rivals campaigned, while his prize-money haul was £600,000 up on the previous season – and his string has grown again since. 

He is third favourite this time at 7-1, with Henderson 8-11 to retain his crown and Nicholls – who finished just under £500,000 in front of Tizzard last term – 6-4 to win it back.

Tizzard's numbers still fall short of those than can be mustered by Henderson or Nicholls, but he is a match for both in the races over which championships tend to be decided.

Last season's nine Grade 1 victories, in addition to several major handicap wins, including the Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National, confirm there is no shortage of ammunition in the big races.

Tizzard jnr said: "Dad would love to be champion trainer one day and it's lovely to be being mentioned in that context, but we aren't thinking about it now.

"It's not something we set out to achieve, but we've got more horses now and we'll be targeting all of the big races, as we did last season.

"We've got the firepower for them, and that's what put us in with a chance last time. If we have the luck in those big races we'll see where we are come March."

He added: "Numerically, I still think we're 40 horses short of what Paul and Nicky have, and more than that compared to Dan Skelton, so we need it all to happen.

'We'll need a bit of luck again'

"We were lucky last year it happened for us in the Hennessy, Welsh National, King George and so on, but they are all competitive races and we'll need a bit of luck again.

"Winning the Summer National at Uttoxeter with Tempestatefloresco was a good start for us, mind, as that put us well ahead of where we would normally be at this stage of the season."

Outlining some of the improvements made at an ever expanding set-up, Tizzard said: "We've got just shy of 100 horses at the moment, which is 15 or so on top of what we had this time last year. We're developing another barn and we have two new walkers and a new wash area. Things are running really smoothly and it's a proper set-up now."

The open day on Monday attracted around 1,600 spectators, and substantial donations will be made once again from the proceeds to relevant charities.

Tizzard continued: "They were queuing an hour before the gates were due to open and we had a brilliant day. The place was packed and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

"Last year we donated just over £4,000 each to the Injured Jockeys Fund and the local Somerset Air Ambulance service, and we are hoping to do the same thing again.

"They are charities close to our hearts and the importance of the air ambulance, which is based only three or four miles away, was underlined again here only three weeks ago when a girl took a nasty fall on the gallops."

Joe Tizzard's super six

Cue Card
He comes in earlier than the rest and has been in quite a while. He's in full work and as usual he'll head to Wetherby, then Haydock, the King George, Ascot and the Gold Cup. That's very much his schedule again and although he's 11, going on 12, he's showing no signs of old age. He looks absolutely superb and is not ready to retire yet. He's burning up our gallops and is in real good form.

Finian's Oscar
He was beaten only once last year, at Punchestown, having missed Cheltenham with a bruised foot, and still ran a hell of a race there. He ended up in front, then perhaps idled, before running on again. He's a big baby and I think we learned there he perhaps doesn't want to be in front to soon. On another day he might have won, but it's top-class form and he's on a learning curve still. The plan is to go chasing. He's done really well through the summer and has been cantering for a month. I'm not sure where we'll start but he should be ready to go mid-October, ground permitting, if there's a suitable race. He hasn't done any schooling yet, but he's won his point-to-point and jumps really well.

Finian's Oscar and Robbie Power jump the last on their way to Grade 1 success in the Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree
Fox Norton
He's been in about a month and is looking superb. His first big target is the Tingle Creek, and we'll probably look to get a run into him before, although I don't know where. We were tempted to step him up in trip in the King George, but owner Alan Potts has Sizing John too and he doesn't want them taking each other on. He was beaten only a short head in the Champion Chase, then won the one in Ireland.

Native River
He's back in, but he was a little bit shook up after his Gold Cup third and won't run until around Christmas time. Last year our main aim was the Hennessy, but this year he's on a different schedule and the main aim will be another crack at the Gold Cup, so we want him fresher for the second half of the season. He'll definitely have an entry for the Grand National too, and he could very well head there after the Gold Cup. He's not cantering yet, but he's back in and hacking out.

Native River and Richard Johnson come home in splendid isolation at the end of a gruelling Coral Welsh National

Pingshou
He'll stay hurdling. He's a big boy and a late developer, so we want to give him the chance to see if he's Champion Hurdle class. He was very impressive at Aintree and then got into a bit of a scrap a long way out at Punchestown, where they cut each others' throats. We'll go for a Champion Hurdle trial to see if he's good enough. If he's not he'll go chasing.

Thistlecrack
He's been on the walker and been ridden, hacking, for five weeks now. He had a slight tear in a tendon in February, but it was very minor. He's been treated and had his box rest, then been out at grass. He'll have two months of gentle road work and be back for Christmas, when the plan is to give him a racecourse gallop before going for the King George again. He looks a picture and his legs are perfect. He's well on schedule and Dad rode him out himself last week. He's been riding quite a few of them this time and plans to sit on them all. I think he saw the pictures of Paul Nicholls back riding out!

Plus a dark one to note

Slate House
He's a Presenting gelding who won a four-year-old point-to-point last November and was near enough top price at the Cheltenham Festival sale. We had him in for a couple of months and could see he's a smart horse, but we didn't want to run him on firm ground at the end of the season. He's certainly one to keep an eye on.

Thistlecrack looks a picture and his legs are perfect. He's well on schedule and Dad rode him out himself last week
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