Racing can be a cruel game at times and the sport was dealt one of its harshest blows yesterday as it was announced that Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack would miss the Cheltenham Festival and the rest of the season after suffering a slight tendon tear.
In a cruel twist of fate for Tizzard and National Hunt fans alike, the sport is now robbed of one of its biggest names and the prospect of a mouth-watering clash between Tizzard’s Triumvirate: Thistlecrack, Native River and Cue Card in racing’s Blue Riband Event.
The nine-year-old son of Kayf Tara was aiming to become the second novice since 1974 (Coneygree, 2015), to win the Gold Cup after lighting up the steeplechasing game this year, most notably when demolishing his more experienced rivals with a devastating display in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
John and Heather Snook’s gelding also played a starring role in one of the most memorable yet gut-wrenching clashes this year when he lost by a head to the ill-fated Many Clouds in the Cotswold Chase on Festival Trials Day at Prestbury Park in January.
However, National Hunt fans will now have to wait till hopefully next season to witness Tizzard’s charge on the track once again with the Dorset handler commenting to the Racing Post: “Thistlecrack is out [of the Gold Cup]. He had heat in his leg last night. The vet scanned him this morning and it’s a slight tendon tear.”
In a season where Willie Mullins’ stable-stars Faugheen, Min, Annie Power and the ill-fated Vautour were also ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival, this news come as a sucker-punch to racing fans with the Gold Cup boiling up nicely to be one of the races of the season, particularly following Thistlecrack’s stable-companions Native River and Cue Card winning the Denman and Ascot Chase’s impressively in recent weeks.
The aforementioned duo are now fighting it out for favouritism in the extended three-miles and two furlongs contest with Native River shading the betting and has been installed as the general 3/1 favourite with Cue Card a point behind him at 4/1.
Thistlecrack has lit up the racing world in the past two seasons with the step up to three miles in his hurdling career producing a dramatic improvement in the gelding’s form which began with a facile 13-length success in the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April 2015.
The gelding then embarked the next season on a formidable five-run winning streak over hurdles which included an authoritative eight-length victory in the Long Walk hurdle at Ascot, a decisive seven-length success in what is now called the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and culminated with a seven-length win in the Liverpool Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree.
However, Tizzard always spoke with excitement about the prospect of sending his charge chasing and following three easy wins in novice chase company at Chepstow, Cheltenham and Newbury, Thistlecrack took the step up to Grade One open company in his stride when decisively beating Cue Card et al by three and a quarter-lengths in a spellbinding performance in the King George.
His defeat to Many Clouds last time had left some people questioning his suitability for the Gold Cup adding further intrigue into what was already shaping up to be a superb renewal of the Grade One contest.
However, we have now been robbed of that mouth-watering prospect and must now wait until next season to hopefully see John and Heather Snook’s gelding on a racecourse again.
A sport which can deliver so many highs, racing can also bring so many lows, this is certainly one of the latter.