Tizzard hoping to bag another valuable pot with Thistlecrack
Betbright Trial Cotswold Chase (Grade 2)| 3m1f56y | 5yo+ | ITV4/RUK
No one could accuse Colin Tizzard of hiding with the outstanding Thistlecrack who puts his perfect chase record on the line against two of the sport's stoutest stayers in his final warm-up before the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Connections will not be taking victory for granted in this Grade 2 chase – for which Thistlecrack is set to go off odds-on – against opposition that includes the last two winners of the contest, Smad Place and Many Clouds, and in a race which has been a graveyard for favourites.
Not since Looks Like Trouble in 2000 has the winner of the Cotswold Chase followed up in the Gold Cup and no favourite has struck since Cyfor Malta's triumph in 1999, Djakadam being the latest to let punters down 12 months ago.
So far in the Thistlecrack story he has run four times and won four times over fences, taking a step out of novice company to land the King George VI Chase in commanding fashion, easing home to beat two former winners of the race in Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti.
King George winners frequently head straight from Kempton to the Cheltenham Festival but Tizzard does not want to pass up a valuable prize on the way.
Tizzard said: "Why should we leave him in his stable for two months when there is absolutely no need to? This is a big race in its own right.
"Everything has gone right with him. He has schooled and worked beautifully and he takes his chance. I think it is a lovely race and I am looking forward to watching him run."
Thistlecrack is rated 5lb superior to Many Clouds, the 2015 Grand National winner who has become a fixture in this race along with Smad Place.
Many Clouds beat Smad Place two years ago, but the placings were reversed last season when the National hero was beaten by 12 lengths. However, Many Clouds has since had a wind operation and won a Listed chase on his return at Aintree in December.
The main objective for Many Clouds this season is to regain the Grand National but trainer Oliver Sherwood has not been put off having a crack at Thistlecrack on the way.
"He is in great form, lightly raced this season and we want him to get some match practice," said Sherwood. "He has run in this the last couple of years.
"The ground wouldn't bother me either way especially now he has had a wind operation. The ground was catching him out on very testing ground. You can't say he is better for the wind op but he is certainly not any worse. It has given him confidence."
In a better place
Smad Place benefited from a breathing procedure before winning the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2015 but could not retain his title at Newbury this season, and has since been given a break.
A year ago he made all the running and stayed on too strongly after being challenge by Many Clouds three fences out, and if repeating those tactics could be the one most likely to explore any potential Achilles heel in Thistlecrack.
Trainer Alan King said: "It would be great to think that Smad Place could repeat last year’s victory, but he is going to find it hard as it looks a classy renewal with Thistlecrack setting the bar very high. However Smad is in great form at home and hopefully he’ll again do himself justice."
Two-time King George winner Silviniaco Conti was written off before his latest Kempton appearance and, although he nearly snatched second place from Cue Card without posing any threat to Thistlecrack, he has been dismissed as a 20-1 chance here.
Cheltenham has never been a happy hunting ground for Silviniaco Conti, however, and he has managed just one placed effort from four appearances.
Trainer Paul Nicholls said: "He ran well in the King George, ran well at Down Royal and small fields seem to suit him, but it is a tough old task. He is 11 now but he always gives a good account and seems very well at the moment."
Having performed creditably to take a 28-length third behind Cue Card and Coneygree in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, Vezelay returns to Britain to tackle a race in which Jair Du Cochet became the only French-trained winner in 2004.
Trainer Emmanuel Clayeux said: "He came out of his last race very well and I've been happy with him since. We've had no hold-ups on account of the weather and he took to British racing very well at Haydock. The only question mark is the more undulating nature of the track and we're running to find out [how he handles it]."
Kylemore Lough steps up in distance after being beaten under three lengths when fifth in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in December.
Trainer Kerry Lee said: "He's stepping up in trip for the first time but he's bred to stay and I'm very hopeful he can run a big race. It's a tall order taking on Thistlecrack, it's a huge step up in class, but it's a bit of an experiment as he has a Gold Cup entry and we need to work out if we're going to take that seriously."
Locally-trained runner, Perfect Candidate, beaten a nose at the same meeting in a 3m2f chase, makes his tenth appearance at the track. Trainer Fergal O'Brien said: "We've got to try and be positive. It's a big day so we will see what happens. He loves Cheltenham and he is a better horse at Cheltenham which is why we are running him there."