04 Jan 17

Handicapper Phil Smith gives his verdict on the impressive performance of Thistlecrack in the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.


In February 2015, I wrote in a BHA blog that I rated Coneygree (166) better than Denman (161) as a Novice chaser. I received a fair amount of criticism for that assertion, but less so after Coneygree won the Gold Cup the following month.

Coneygree went to 172 after Cheltenham and one of the decisions I had to make this week was where should I rate Thistlecrack after his King George victory. As well as looking at what horses were behind and how far they were beaten, I also looked at the historical context of the performances of 3 mile novice chasers. I had to ask myself was Thistlecrack’s achievement in beating a clearly below form Cue Card, Silviniaco Conti, Tea For Two and Josses Hill better than Coneygree’s effort in the Gold Cup?

In the 2015 Gold Cup Coneygree had 16 opponents and after leading all the way put up a terrific time in beating Djakadam, Road To Riches, Holywell, Many Clouds, Silviniaco Conti and Carlingford Lough all of whom had won their previous race. Both Many Clouds and Silviniaco Conti subsequently won their next race at Aintree, so the form was amazingly solid.

Of course Thistlecrack was spectacular and we are all looking for a new horse to admire and love, BUT if Might Bite (152) had stood up in the Kauto Star Chase 70 minutes earlier, he would have put up a faster time than Thistlecrack did in the King George. So I have Thistlecrack on 171, lower than his hurdle mark of 174 and lower than Coneygree at the end of his novice season. Higher however, than any novice we have had since the start of the Anglo-Irish Jumps Classification in 1999-2000 at this stage of their novice career.

Thistlecrack is clearly full of potential but so too is the same yard’s Native River. Yes, he was favoured by the conditions of the Welsh National and was able to run off the same mark (155) as he did when winning the Hennessy, but he answered a completely different set of questions at Chepstow than he did at Newbury and is now on 168 after routing his field. He is clearly making rapid progression and although Thistlecrack’s jumping will continue to get better, Native River is two years younger and will improve.

Add in a back-to-form Cue Card, a fit again Don Cossack and Outlander, the improving Lexus winner who has not been out of the first three in his last 12 races when he has got round. We should have a Gold Cup to savour.