Tizzards play cards right to earn crack at the big time

Thistlecrack, Cue Card and Coneygree are the poster boys for National Hunt breeding in this country

One story has dominated the racing press over the past month – the career-ending injury sustained by Freddy Tylicki in a four-horse pile-up at Kempton. The rider suffered a T7 paralysis after falling from his mount, which means he has no movement in the lower part of his body.

An online fundraising page, rapidly set up by At The Races presenter Matt Chapman, was inundated with donations, with over a quarter of a million pounds pledged in just a few days. The money came from all sorts of people, including Tylicki’s colleagues, trainers, owners, other professionals, punters and media workers. Can you imagine this happening in any other sport?

The outpouring of support for Tylicki – and financial assistance – cannot of course compensate for the loss of a young man’s mobility and livelihood. At 30, he appeared to be reaching his peak in the saddle and 2016 saw debut Group 1 victories courtesy of the filly Speedy Boarding, trained by James Fanshawe. We will never know how far he could have gone in the discipline he loved. We wish him the very best in his recovery and for the future.

With this in mind it might be shocking to hear Joe Tizzard reveal that he used to get a buzz from getting up after a heavy fall. The former jump jockey, who gives a superb interview in this issue (Talking To, pages 52-59), is now assistant trainer to his father Colin at one of the most upwardly mobile yards in Britain, boosted by the recent arrival of horses owned by Ann and Alan Potts, who have moved most of their string out of Ireland. The Tizzards, clearly, are an impressive double act.

Just two years ago it would have seemed silly to suggest that father and son would train a horse of comparable talent to stable favourite Cue Card, the evergreen ten-year-old and winner of 14 races, including seven Grade 1s. Yet in the imposing Thistlecrack, currently ante-post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, they might house an animal of even greater natural ability.

It would have been silly to suggest that they would train a better horse than Cue Card

Thistlecrack’s progress has been immense: he ran only once before the age of six and did not appear over obstacles until January last year, yet he quickly developed into an outstanding hurdler, winning all six races last season taking in the big staying events at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.

Certainly, his owners’ patience has been rewarded and then some. As Tizzard explains: “He had some niggly problems and was a big, weak baby who could barely handle our gallops as a four- and five-year-old. He used to pull muscles in his pelvis as easy as anything.

“His owners, John and Heather Snook, are big farmers and stock people and agreed to give Thistlecrack time, allowing the horse to tell us when he’d be ready to be trained. Thanks to their patience, we’ve now got this exciting horse. They understand livestock and were happy to back off and let the horse grow into himself and fill out.

“It was the season before last after I gave him a two-mile gallop round Wolverhampton that I realised, ‘This is a serious horse’. Then last year Thistlecrack took it to a whole new level and we never got to the bottom of him.”

Thistlecrack carries the letters ‘GB’ after his name and along with the likes of stable companion Cue Card and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree is one of the poster boys for National Hunt breeding in this country.

The life of the British NH breeder has not been an easy one in recent times, overshadowed by the industries in Ireland and France, yet a number of initiatives introduced by the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association to boost business appear to be starting to bear fruit.

Emma Berry’s exclusive report (The Big Issue, pages 62-70) looks at the measures introduced in recent times to move British NH breeding forward, talking to a number of leading breeders on their experiences and thoughts on the future.

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