A tale of scripts, clocks and crocks....

Last Updated: 04.01.2017

Wednesday, 4th January 2017

A tale of scripts, clocks and crocks….

I wonder what price Thistlecrack would be to win the Gold Cup in March had Coneygree not won in 2015….

Coneygree won that edition as a novice having raced just three times over fences.

He was the first novice to win a Gold Cup since Captain Christy in 1974 – another era completely.

And Mark Bradstock’s 8yo was sensational on the day – making all, crossing his fences like a cat and going through the pain barrier to stick on up the hill.

It was brilliant stuff. Exhilarating. As good as it gets. And, if you have 6 minutes and 42 seconds to spare, it is a performance worth enjoying again – watch here….

  • Editing the script….

What Coneygree did that afternoon was edit the script.

What had not been achieved for such a long time was suddenly rendered possible again.

Once Coneygree had broken the 40-year-long hoodoo, the special feat was brought back within the grasp of those that followed in his wake….

Because Coneygree won the race as a 3-run novice, it is much easier for the market to accept today that Thistlecrack can win it as a novice too. Easier than if Coneygree had not done what he did.

At least that’s my take. I believe there’s an element of what Coneygree did expressing itself in Thistlecrack’s Gold Cup quote….

  • The clock tells its own story….

Coneygree didn’t win a King George. Coneygree contested the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton’s Christmas meeting.

On those grounds, you might argue that Thistlecrack is the better of the two horses at this stage of their respective novice campaigns. 

And it would be a hard case to argue against. Thistlecrack is an open G1 winner. Coneygree was not.

But the standard of races won is only one way of looking at the respective merits of both horses. Another would be the clock….

At this stage of his novice season Coneygree had raced twice. Thistlecrack has already raced four times. And his winning-time in the King George exceeds what Coneygree had produced…

But it was next time out at Newbury in the Denman Chase when Coneygree threw down his Gold Cup marker.

He produced a cracker. His performance measured at 152 on the Racing Post’s Topspeed scale. Thistlecrack’s King George performance – by way of contrast – weighed in at 133.

Thistlecrack still has time to hit the pre-Gold Cup standard set by Coneygree. He still has time to prove he can fences at the speed Coneygree was doing it. He may do it in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham later this month. But he hasn’t done it yet….

Coneygree was sent off 7s for the Gold Cup – and was easy to back at double-figures in the run-up. Thistlecrack is already odds-on. In my book, that’s a price that has slipped free from the noose of actual achievement – at least as measured on the clock….

  • Words of resignation?

Of course, markets are about more than the exploits of one horse. Prices reflect the strength and depth of a race overall – the level of competition and the quality of opposition an individual horse is expected to face….

Where the Gold Cup is concerned, Thistlecrack’s price reflects the fact that the opposition isn’t what it could be.

Coneygree is playing his part in that issue too. Seen just twice since winning the Gold Cup, the 10yo has always been fragile. His long back legs are his strength – working like pistons. But the sword is double-edged and his legs are a constant source of problems because of the strain put on them.

He missed the King George because he jarred himself up in the Betfair Chase. Now he’s trying to make it to the Gold Cup without another run. He might not even make it at all…

‘He’s already won a Gold Cup and if he’s not right and we have to go to Aintree or Punchestown instead then that's what's right for him.’

That was Mark Bradstock last week. Coneygree’s preparations are clearly a long way short of ideal for a tilt at the very biggest race on the programme. And Bradstock’s comments contain a degree of resignation. They suggest connections privately acknowledge the Gold Cup will come too soon.

  • The competition may be lacking….

Last year’s Gold Cup winner, Don Cossack, has had problems too. He’s not been since winning that race because of career-threatening injury.

He’s back in training. But connections are taking it one day at a time – keeping fingers crossed and hoping he suffers no further setbacks.

That caution didn’t stop Bryan Cooper outlining how keen he is to ‘have a go’ at Thistlecrack though. Talking to ATR last week he said:

‘It would be nice to have a go at him (Thistlecrack). He is very flashy in what he's been doing, but at the end of the day, Don Cossack is a Gold Cup winner and if he comes back with the same spark he had there last year, it's going to take a hell of a horse to beat him.’

Meantime, Cooper broke his pelvis at Punchestown. He’s out for up to 8-weeks – assuming he suffers no additional setbacks.

If Don Cossack does show up at Cheltenham, he might not have his regular pilot. That wouldn’t be a complete game-changer. But it’s an important detail. At the top level, it is details that make the difference….

Vautour is no longer around. Cue Card is 11 and, whilst no busted flush, he must be more vulnerable to younger horses with every furlong he runs….

The competition is not what we would hope. Some big guns are absent. Others are silent or misfiring….

  • Where is the value?

All this finds expression in Thistlecrack’s Gold Cup price. It all contributes to the positive sentiment surrounding the horse….

But I still think Thistlecrack is too short. I think he is over-bet on what he’s achieved….

And his short price must create value elsewhere in the market….

If the percentage Thistlecrack takes out of the book is too big, the percentage of other horses will be too small. Their prices will be bigger than they should be. Those horses represent the value.

But where is that value? Which price is too big?

That’s the question I’ll answer tomorrow….

  • The last word….

Fancy tickets for Punchestown on Saturday 14th January? The highlight on the card is the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle – won most recently by Vautour, Douvan and Min.

The Sporting Life has ten sets of five tickets up for grabs. For a chance to win a set, all you need to do is figure out which owner won the past three editions of the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle….

Send your answer, name, address and mobile number to racingfeedback@sportinglife.com.

You can get the nitty-gritty here. And, if you don’t know the answer, try Mrs S Ricci.

That’s all for today. More to come. Stay tuned.

Nick Pullen

Against the Crowd