32Red King George VI Chase
|Grade 1, Kempton Park 15:15
3m, Class 1
|Monday 26th December 2016|
1 Thistlecrack 11/10F
2 Cue Card 5/4
3 Silviniaco Conti 20/1
5 ran Distances: 3¼l, shd, hd
TIME 5m 53.50s (fast by 0.50s)
Thistlecrack: A "phenomenal racehorse", says an emotional Tom Scudamore
Last year's leading staying hurdler Thistlecrack was having only his fourth start over fences and his first outside novice company as connections planned an audacious campaign.
Concerns as to whether his jumping would stand up to scrutiny in open company were soon banished as he outjumped stablemate, market rival and reigning champion Cue Card.
Silviniaco Conti took the field along but the two stablemates led the five runners out onto the second circuit.
Tea For Two and Lizzy Kelly kept poking their heads between rivals but the big two soon settled down to fight it out.
Thistlecrack kept fencing better than Cue Card and his rider Paddy Brennan began to send out the distress signals approaching the home turn.
Thistlecrack was clear entering the straight with the only dangers lying in front of him and he took each obstacle with aplomb to record an historic victory under jockey Tom Scudamore.
It was a close thing for second, with Cue Card just holding the late rally of Silviniaco Conti.
Scudamore said: "For the first time in my life I'm pretty speechless. It's wonderful - I thought he'd win, but I never imagined he'd do it as easy as that.
"He's a phenomenal racehorse, he's a pleasure to ride and a great credit to everyone. To win a King George on his fourth run over fences, it just shows the hard work everyone back at the yard has done and I'm so thrilled to be part of it."
He added: "Between myself, my father (Peter) and grandfather (Michael) we've had about 3,000 winners and he's the best one of the lot."
Connections of Thistlecrack kept punters guessing for a while as to which Boxing Day race he would contest, with the Kauto Star Novices' Chase an apparently easier option.
On the decision to go for King George glory, part-owner Heather Snook said: "It wasn't that hard actually, because he had to take on the big boys sooner rather than later.
"Tom was happy, we were happy and Colin was happy, so we let him take his chance.
"We're very lucky people."
Tizzard revealed the decision on his festive target had been made some time ago.
"As soon as I made the entry we knew which way we were going to go, although we sort of pretended we didn't," said the Dorset-based trainer who had earlier won the Kauto Star Novices' Chase with Royal Vacation.
"He's not a five or six-year-old, he is eight and he'll be nine in a few days' time.
"He's at the peak of his powers and he's just proved we all got it right."
Reflecting on the mesmerising display, he added: "It's quite frightening to watch, isn't it? When Cue Card went up beside Thistlecrack six or eight (fences) out, I thought 'goodness me'. It's a very fickle world we live in.
"We've all seen Thistlecrack for the last few years, he's had his biggest test and he's a brilliant horse.
"When he was long he was standing off and Tom was being a bit careful at the second-last and he shortened up almost like a show-jumper - he never touched a twig.
"He's got everything you'd want in a racehorse.
"Cue Card could have cried enough at the last, but he stuck his head out and finished second, so it's brilliant."
"I suspect you'll see Thistlecrack in the race at Cheltenham, I would have thought, just for experience really," said Tizzard.
"Cue Card is nearly 11 and perhaps we'll leave him for the Gold Cup, but that could change."
Brennan was magnanimous in defeat.
He said: "You want to win, but some things are impossible and trying to beat that racehorse today was one of the most impossible things I've ever tried to do.
"You can make all the excuses in the world, but it's a long time since I've ridden against a horse like that.
"Cue Card was really brave today and I'm really proud of him. The ground was lively enough for him at times.
"I didn't want to be knocking him about after the last, but he stuck his neck out and hung on for second."
Looking ahead to a potential rematch in the Gold Cup, the jockey added: "It would be nice, but I'm very realistic and we'd need a lot of things to go right on the day.
"But on a bit softer ground, I won't give up hope."
Sky Bet cut Thistlecrack to 5/4 favourite for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and their Michael Shinners said: "What a performance.
"The public voted with their wallets to send him off favourite for the King George and Thistlecrack is now a hot favourite for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup at 5/4.
"Connections' decision to be bold has paid off with a brilliant performance and this proven festival performer is very much the one to beat at Prestbury Park in March and I, for one, can't wait to see him in action again."
Paul Nicholls was proud of the performance of Silviniaco Conti, who was beaten just a short head to the runner-up spot.
He said: "That was probably one of his best runs in the last year or two. Another stride and he would have been second.
"He has just lost that little bit of pace. He stayed on really strongly and kept at all the way through. If you are talking about Aintree, what a Grand National trial."
The soon-to-be 11-year-old could now bid for back-to-back victories in February's Ascot Chase.
"Two-mile-five might be sharp enough for him but if the ground was like it was last year, then on that run that is where he is highly likely to go," Nicholls added.
"You could nearly go to Punchestown and keep him fresh for that and let the others scrap it out at Aintree and Cheltenham. I still say there is a big one in him."
William Hill King George VI Chase
£200,000 added, 4yo plus, 3m, Class 1
Going: Good, Good to Soft in places
|1st||Thistlecrack 11/10f||T Scudamore
|C L Tizzard||8|
|2nd||3¼||Cue Card 5/4||P J Brennan
|C L Tizzard||10|
|3rd||s.h||Silviniaco Conti (FR) 20/1||N D Fehily
|P F Nicholls||10|
|4th||hd||Tea For Two 25/1||Lizzie Kelly
|5th||3½||Josses Hill (IRE) 8/1||D A Jacob
|N J Henderson||8|