I can’t deny I felt very confident going into this year’s King George VI Chase aboard Thistlecrack, as I’m sure Paddy Brennan was on Cue Card. Nothing had been left to chance with Thistlecrack’s training and I had complete belief in the horse.
The plan I had in my head for the race was to get him up there, in a good position over the first few fences and then I knew the rest should work out for him.
He has so much exuberance but I know he can jump like that and get away with it. It is an unbelievable buzz riding him in a race — it’s never an “oh my goodness” feeling when he puts in those huge jumps.
When the rest of the field came to us down the back straight, I knew we’d all find out what Thistlecrack was really made of. I gave him a small kick in the belly and off he went — I knew he could. He does it very well indeed and how it looks on TV is very much how it feels to ride.
There was no talking during the race, however, I did have a cup of tea with Paddy beforehand and even though we weren’t going to tell each other our plans for the race, we both just hoped we’d do each horse justice and not let them down. If either of us got beat, we wanted it to be for the right reason not because of a silly mistake.
‘A freak of nature’
Thistlecrack is a freak of nature and it is wonderful people are appreciating his remarkable ability on the racecourse. He has a lovely way of doing things and plenty of charisma — you can clearly see that in the way he holds himself.
People have been comparing him to Kauto Star, which I can understand, but I would say he is more like Desert Orchid, who stamped his authority at Kempton in a similar style — however, he did that four times and only time will tell if Thistlecrack can match that.
I found out he was entered a week in advance so I had plenty of time to prepare for the race, and was also able to enjoy a little bit of Christmas dinner. The pressure leading up to a race like that doesn’t bother me — I was just hoping he would take to it, as it was the first time he’d come under pressure like that over fences.
A lucky chance
I first sat on Thistlecrack when I picked up a spare ride on him in a Grade One novices’ hurdle at Aintree in 2015. I had always ridden for Colin Tizzard but on this occasion it was very fortunate I didn’t already have a ride in that race.
I don’t ride him out at home but I do go in and school him every now and then.
Thistlecrack has matured a lot over the past year and has got better the more he’s raced. This time last year, I’d say he was still a bit raw but now he is more like the finished article.
Colin’s success as a trainer hasn’t come overnight; it has been a good number of years in the making. He works so hard and his son Joe and daughter Kim are also a huge part of the team and deserve plenty of credit too.
Ref Horse & Hound; 5 January 2017