Few in racing are better placed to assess the merits of contenders for the King George VI Chase than jockey Ruby Walsh.
The Irishman holds the record for wins in the Boxing Day showpiece after partnering the legendary Kauto Star to five wins, as they tore up the record books around Kempton.
Walsh came within a whisker of securing another win 12 months ago on the Willie Mullins-trained Vautour, only to be collared in the shadows of the post by Cue Card.
With Vautour sadly no longer around and Mullins without a representative in Monday’s race, Walsh looks set to join the rest of the racing world in watching a blockbuster collision between stablemates Cue Card and Thistlecrack.
Seven-time Grade One-winning chaser Cue Card is the 6/5 favourite with ComeOn! to retain his crown at Kempton.
Meanwhile, Thistlecrack is aiming to ascend the rankings with little care for reputation or past deeds, as Tom Scudamore‘s mount looks to open his top-level account in Open company at the first time of asking in just his fourth ever start over the larger obstacles.
It was a brave decision by Thistlecrack’s owners to leap out of novice company and accept the challenge, with the eight-year-old currently 11/8 with ComeOn! to reward them with victory.
Writing in his latest blog, Walsh admits he would side with the star potential of the younger horse if given the chance to partner one or other of the Tizzard duo on Monday.
“It’s a big step up for Thistlecrack – the likely tempo of the race and the quality of this King George field is his biggest test yet over fences,” Walsh wrote.
“But I think he’ll prove up to it and if I had the choice I’d ride Thistlecrack in the Boxing Day feature.”
With just seven runners declared for the King George, Walsh believes the jigsaw pieces have fallen into place perfectly for Thistlecrack.
He has scarcely come off the bridle in three runs this season and while his jumping has been questioned at times, he was perfectly entitled to enjoy a learning curve.
With only six potential rivals, Walsh suggests Scudamore and Thistlecrack can benefit from a decent sight of the obstacles.
If he puts in a clear round, it may prove ominously tough for the others to break a horse with apparently endless reserves of stamina.
Should he win the King George, Thistlecrack will enter the history books as the first novice to claim the Christmas showpiece.
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