The biggest oohs and aahs on the entertainment scene this winter were nothing to do with the ‘He’s behind you …oh no he isn’t’ of pantomime. They were the collective gasps of astonishment from 21,000 spectators at Kempton Park on Boxing Day as Thistlecrack, a novice steeplechaser in only his fourth race over the big fences, took on two previous winners of the King George VI Chase and beat them hollow. He beat them not just because of the massive engine within his spectacular frame but thanks to the sheer majesty of his explosive jumping, often taking off far beyond the wings of the fences and soaring over them as if they were matchwood.
As the spectacle began to unfold, most of us in the crowd started jumping every obstacle alongside him, our stomachs lurching with anxiety in case a Wicked Witch or Baron Hardup should intervene to end the fairy tale. Thistlecrack’s popular jockey, the cool Tom Scudamore (well, cool until he burst into understandable tears after the winning post), noted after the race that he, his father Peter and his grandfather Michael had ridden more than 3,000 horses between them to victory over jumps and that Thistlecrack was without any doubt the best.
Jump racing needs a constant stream of stars to renew its appeal, stars as bright as Golden Miller, Desert Orchid, Best Mate and Kauto Star: in Thistlecrack we have a horse that will give the jumping scene its allure for the next few years. Just as Kauto Star and Denman in their prime occupied adjoining boxes in Paul Nicholls’s yard, Thistlecrack has now perhaps usurped the title of ‘the people’s horse’ from his stablemate Cue Card. The latest duo, too, come from a yard that represents the true heartbeat of jump racing.