Victory procession for Thistlecrack who's at peak of his powers
Turning big races into victory processions has fast become a habit for Thistlecrack and that trend continued with his greatest display yet as he put in a brilliant performance to capture the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.
Having conquered all before him in the staying hurdling division last season, the Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old looks set to hit the same heights over fences after making a seamless transition out of novice company, making it four out of four over larger obstacles in the Christmas showpiece.
After taking matters up from dual King George winner Silviniaco Conti as the field headed out on to their final circuit, the 11-10 favourite poured on the pressure from the front and only stablemate and last year's winner Cue Card could match him, with the pair pulling clear rounding the home turn.
But those in the stands hoping to see a battle between the Dorset handler's two stars were to be disappointed as Tom Scudamore flicked a switch on the bold-jumping market leader which extended his lead in a matter of strides.
Greeted by a roof-raising cheer over the last, Scudamore gave a glance behind to his toiling rivals as he celebrated the win a good distance from the line, before coasting home by three and a quarter lengths from Cue Card and Paddy Brennan, who saw off Silviniaco Conti by a short head.
The imperious winner was cut to 5-4 favourite for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup with most firms, while Ladbrokes made him 4-5 from 3-1.
Tizzard, who had earlier won the Kauto Star Novices' Chase with Royal Vacation, said: "That is the most nerve-racking thing I've ever watched. Especially when they came together a fair way out. In the end it was just lovely and a fantastic performance by both horses."
On the decision to tackle the King George rather than stick to the novice route, Tizzard said: "He's not a five or six-year-old, he is eight and he'll be nine in a few days' time. He's at the peak of his powers and he's just proved we all got it right.
"We've all seen Thistlecrack for the last few years, he's had his biggest test and he's a brilliant horse.
"When he was long he was standing off and Tom was being a bit careful at the second-last and he shortened up almost like a show-jumper - he never touched a twig.
"He's got everything you'd want in a racehorse."
He added: "Cue Card could have cried enough at the last, but he stuck his head out and finished second, so it's brilliant."
Thistlecrack could now cement his Cheltenham Gold Cup claims in the Cotswold Chase at Prestbury Park on January 28, but Cue Card looks set to head straight for the blue riband.
Tizzard said: "I suspect you'll see Thistlecrack in the race at Cheltenham, I would have thought, just for experience really.
"Cue Card is nearly 11 and perhaps we'll leave him for the Gold Cup, but that could change."
Cue Card's jockey Paddy Brennan was magnanimous in defeat, saying: "You want to win, but some things are impossible and trying to beat that racehorse today was one of the most impossible things I've ever tried to do."
Tizzard and Brennan had earlier combined to land the 32Red Kauto Star Novices' Chase with Royal Vacation.
The 33-1 shot was booked for second until Might Bite crashed out at the final fence.
The Alan King-trained Yanworth appears Britain's leading hope for the Champion Hurdle after an assured victory in the 32Red.com Christmas Hurdle.
The 5-4 favourite knuckled down to beat The New One comfortably and may now head straight to the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Andrew Thornton achieved his long-held dream of riding 1000 British winners when completing a 77-1 double at Wincanton.