Cotswold Chase: Thistlecrack 'buzz' makes Tom Scudamore proud

Thistlecrack
Tom Scudamore celebrates after riding Thistlecrack to victory in the King George on Boxing Day

You can't be too careful.

With stable stars Thistlecrack, Cue Card, Native River and Finian's Oscar all hitting jump racing's high spots, not a great deal has gone wrong of late for trainer of the moment Colin Tizzard.

Practically the only blot on an otherwise dreamy season was when expensive French purchase Alary was well beaten in Haydock's Peter Marsh Chase.

Subsequent to being pulled up by his rider, vets' tests on the seven-year-old found he wasn't 100%, and Tizzard and his team have taken no chances.

The trainer, based in deepest Dorset, said: "Alary coughed a couple of times after the race, and he was [stabled] quite close to Thistlecrack and Cue Card and Native River so almost before he was pulled up he was being moved to the other end of the yard.

"We joked: 'We don't want you anywhere near them.'"

All of Tizzard's big names are due to race during late January and February before going for the most glittering prizes at jump racing's Cheltenham Festival in March.

Most immediately, Thistlecrack takes in Saturday's BetBright Cotswold Chase, on Cheltenham's Festival Trials Day, as his final stepping stone towards the Gold Cup, for which he's hot favourite just ahead of, intriguingly, Native River and Cue Card.

The breathtaking, big-jumping winner of Kempton's King George VI Chase, on only his fourth time in a steeplechase, is said by Tizzard to be in "brilliant" and "beautiful" form.

A champion over hurdles, the horse's switch to the chasing big time has been so impressively smooth he's become an almost instant standard-bearer for the sport, and his capture of the public imagination is striking.

On board in the Cotswold Chase, wearing the orange silks of owners John and Heather Snook, will be jockey Tom Scudamore, back in the position he's been in for the nine-year-old's past 11 starts. That's every one since April 2015, and all but one a success.

The 34-year-old, the third-generation top jump jockey in his family after father Peter and grandfather Michael, told BBC Sport: "To have a horse like Thistlecrack come along is obviously great, and it's a great position to be in, and one I'm very grateful for.

"A lot of successful jockeys are at one point associated with particular horses - Jonjo O'Neill with Dawn Run; Richard Dunwoody with Desert Orchid; Ruby [Walsh] with Master Minded through Kauto Star to Hurricane Fly - and that's very nice for a jockey, very special.

"Dad rode lots of winners but isn't necessarily associated with one horse, and he's in awe of Thistlecrack; he'd have loved to have ridden him.

"We talk about him a lot, and when I hear the buzz of excitement that he, like so many other people, gets from Thistlecrack, that's gives me great pride too."

Scudamore is famously unflappable in the saddle - "steady as a rock", according to Tizzard - but this horse is gathering fans, and consequently expectations, as quickly as any I can recall.

While acknowledging the clamour around him, the jockey is determinedly keeping his feet on the ground.

He said: "I suppose one thing that has put me in good stead for riding him, which I was brought up on, is that you take every day as it comes.

"You just keep on concentrating and not getting too carried away.

"You're not going out on Thistlecrack and thinking, 'God, I can't wait to ride him in the Gold Cup', because that would be thinking too far ahead down the line.

"It's like a fighter in his prelims going for the world championship; if you take your eye off the ball, you're not going to get to the world championships.

"So, you've got to keep on concentrating, and take every day as it comes, and the rest will follow from there."

Trainer Colin Tizzard with Cue Card
Trainer Colin Tizzard with Cue Card, one of three in his stable tipped for potential success at Cheltenham's Gold Cup

The Cotswold Chase, which brings £57,000 to the winner, is the centrepiece of what's now - following the transfer of two races originally called off because of bad weather - a nine-race programme.

Thistlecrack is due to face opponents including the race's past two winners, Smad Place and Many Clouds, the latter a real favourite since success in the 2015 Grand National.

All agree that Thistlecrack, the odds-on favourite, may well be home and hosed, but Oliver Sherwood, trainer of Many Clouds, believes in the old racing adage that you should never be frightened of one horse.

He said: "I don't expect to beat Thistlecrack - he's been enormous this season - but racing is there to have good horses take each other on.

"The Grand National is again our target, and there's no point sitting at home when we need some match practice.

"Prize money for second - £21,370 - is damn good as well. We all want winners but to finish second to Thistlecrack with that prize money is probably better than winning a smaller race somewhere else."