By Simon Jackson.
Thistlecrack is clear favourite for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham after his resounding eight-length victory in the Grade 1 JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
The Colin Tizzard-trained seven-year-old was available at odds of 8-1 prior to Saturday’s race but is now best-priced at 3-1 and as short at 9-4 for the feature race on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival on March 17.
At Ascot Thistlecrack tracked the leader and three-time Long Walk Hurdle winner Reve De Sivola for the bulk of the journey before taking it up two fences out. He extended his advantage on the run-in to win easily for Tom Scudamore who last week was cleared to partner the winner after he had a five-day ban overturned.
The Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in late January is the likely immediate target for Thistlecrack, who was the subject of an upbeat report from his trainer on Sunday.
“He has come out of the race at Ascot absolutely fine and has eaten up,” Tizzard said.
“The Cleeve Hurdle comes at about the right time. It is five to six weeks away and he will go there, then on to the Cheltenham Festival. I am sure that is the route we will take.
“He is a big, strong, powerful horse and I was expecting that sort of performance and nothing less.
“He found improvement in the spring and we thought it could have been for the better ground, but it is the fact that he has gone up to three miles.”
The victory continues a purple patch for Tizzard who saddles the in-form Cue Card in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Yet the trainer has no intentions of sending his star hurdler over fences in the near future.
“He [Thistlecrack] looks like a chaser and his dam was a good stayer over fences,” Tizzard told At The Races.
“He is seven, going on eight, but he is doing a very good job in this discipline and picking up an awful lot of money.
“The competition is probably not so hot so we will stay on this route this year and I see no reason to change so I don’t think we will ask him that question yet.
“He was a long way off peak fitness [when winning] at Newbury. The last 10 days he’s been really good on our gallop.
“Reve De Sivola ran a brilliant race, beat everything else a long way, and we clobbered him.”
Read ‘Horse Talk with Simon Jackson’ at London24 for the latest horse racing news.