IT was the defeat we least expected. But in the end, the result of a horse race would matter little on a day of tragedy at Cheltenham. The mighty Thistlecrack, racing’s newest and perhaps greatest superstar-in-waiting, was supposed to follow the script in Saturday’s Cotswold Chase as he continues his progress towards the Gold Cup in March. The record books will tell us he didn’t. But all those in attendance and watching on television know that his reputation has, if anything, been enhanced.

It needed the performance of a lifetime to relegate him to a narrow second. And sadly, it would cost Many Clouds his life. If ever a horse went out on his sword, it was this chap. And in every way, it tells us all we need to know about Thistlecrack – and his chances come the big one in March – that it needed this type of effort to lower his colours on Saturday.

They say you learn more in defeat than victory, and this is definitely one such case. For the first time in his career, Thistlecrack was required to get down and dirty and battle all the way to the line. Had he stuck his neck out an extra bit further, his price for the Gold Cup would likely have remained unmoved. He would he been declared the classy horse who could also tough it out when he needed to. Instead, bookmakers saw chinks in his armour that, for me, just do not exist and we immediately got quotes of 5/2 after Saturday’s race.

Unsurprisingly, those quotes are gone. But slithers of 2/1 remain (time of writing, 30/1/2017 AM) about a horse who, just a few days ago, was an odds on shot. Let’s not forget, he pulled 17 lengths clear of Smad Place in third, which rates as very solid form on “winter ground,” in the words of Colin Tizzard. By the time we reach March and Cheltenham produces a sounder surface, Thistlecrack is sure to be shown to even better effect.

I’ve read a few bits and pieces questioning his jumping on Saturday. But in actual fact, he was very accomplished on the whole. It is a symptom of watching Thistlecrack since he went over fences that every last jump is dissected, but one leap apart, he gave Tom Scudamore very few causes for concern. And he will have learned a lot being ridden with more restraint in the pack on Saturday, rather than his usual tactics forcing the pace.

If it sounds like I’m making a case to back this horse with cold hard cash – then I am! We often see markets overreacting in the wake of Festival Trials – mostly in terms of horses being cut before their time – but here we have a classic case of a horse on the drift when, in my view, he remains as good a bet as ever. If you can snap up any remaining 2/1 (especially with non runner no bet guarantees) then do so now, is my advice. Thistlecrack has the potential to etch his name as one of the greatest equine stars of our time. And what he learned on Saturday will play a key part in that education.



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