Many Clouds (left) and Thistlecrack go head-to-head at Cheltenham
PICTURE: Getty Images
By David Ashforth 6:00PM 30 JAN 2017
THISTLECRACK isn’t running on Tuesday. There isn’t a suitable jumps race, the seven furlong maiden at Wolverhampton wouldn’t really suit and, anyway, he’s only just run.
It would be better if he was running because it would give me an excuse to write about him. I’ll just have to do it anyway.
I’m surprised that in post-Cotswold Chase reflections Thistlecrack’s defeat has almost unanimously been ascribed entirely to a lack of stamina and Many Clouds’ incomparable battling qualities.
It is true that Thistlecrack didn’t find as much up the hill as seemed likely approaching the last fence and Many Clouds’ sad end confirmed that he was a horse who refused to give up. What is missing is the part Thistlecrack’s jumping played in his defeat.
Many Clouds didn’t just outstay and outbattle Thistlecrack he outjumped him with a display of slick, fast, efficient fencing that Thistlecrack couldn’t match and left him playing catch-up too often.
It was the performance of a novice chaser, albeit an exceptionally talented one, against a seasoned jumper. Good at a majority of fences although rarely as good as Many Clouds, Thistlecrack was sometimes rather slow and at the downhill fences he skewed and nodded.
He made only one serious mistake, at the fourth last and did, after all, almost win but his jumping surely contributed to Thistlecrack running out of steam up the hill.
The biggest threat to Thistlecrack winning the Gold Cup is not lack of stamina but the remaining question mark over his jumping. He may well jump more assuredly and efficiently on March 17. He may still win if jumping as he did on Saturday but if there is a crack in Thistlecrack’s armour, at the moment that is it.
Cracks in armour are rather more obvious among Tuesday’s runners. In the case of Willshebetrying (4.30 Lingfield. zero from 15 so far) it probably doesn’t matter a lot whether she is or isn’t and she is not alone.
Evolution may need more time than is available to improve Darwins Theory (2.25 Lingfield) but Fiona Shaw’s nine-year-old, who goes well on heavy ground and ran well over course and distance last time, should be the proverbial thereabouts. Usually, thereabouts means “beaten but not very far,” an outcome that generations of bookmakers have failed to sympathise with.
Sympathy will not be required when tackling Wolverhampton’s amateur riders’ races for sprinters that can’t sprint very fast. Autumn Tonic and Swendab will both be “thereabouts” in the 2.10 while Pushkin Museum and Tribesman will be “thereabouts” in the 2.45. Easy.
The ride Richard Johnson gave Cheat The Cheater (3.00 Lingfield) to finish third at Ffos Las last month deserves to be short-listed for ride of the season. As long as Johnson has Cheat The Cheater and The Last Bridge to ride he shouldn’t have any trouble with his level of fitness.
Even so and even against the motley lot in opposition, it’s the most enormous cream bun for the champion jockey if he can persuade Cheat The Cheater to win.