Colin Tizzard would never admit to favouring Cue Card over Thistlecrack but one gets the impression he would love to see the former win a second 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
The Dorset handler talks about the soon-to-be 11-year-old in glowing terms and feels he is in “supreme” form ahead of the eagerly-anticipated clash.
While many felt it would have been sensible to keep the two apart, the decision to run Thistlecrack in the King George rather than in the Feltham was left ultimately to owners John and Heather Snook, with the full backing of his trainer.
There is so little between the two that bookmakers are even betting on which of them will go off favourite.
“Cue Card has always been the apple of my eye since he won the Champion Bumper in 2010,” said Tizzard.
“He has been strutting his stuff for six seasons in these big races. Thistlecrack is right up there with him. These horses don’t come along too often in your lifetime.
“Cue Card is in as equally good a form as he has ever been. If you look at Haydock, he looked supreme again. He jumped the second-last and coasted away.
“He is still a good horse. No doubt if he arrives on his A game he will take a lot of beating. He is just a happy horse.
“Thistlecrack is a powerhouse. He is a different type of horse altogether. He is a great brute and he looks almost like a hunter. When you get him to the races and put the saddle on, he then looks fantastic.
“He goes on the walker an hour before we ride him each day and an hour afterwards.”
In the blue corner, Paddy Brennan has struck up a terrific partnership with Cue Card for the past two seasons and felt that he was better than ever when winning the Betfair Chase for the third time at Haydock.
Brennan said: “He felt his best ever at Haydock the last day. It is no secret he is getting a lot better the older he is getting.
“What you experience from Cue Card at times is not normal. He can do things that no other horse that I’ve ridden before can do.
“He can do things with ease that other horses couldn’t do off the bridle. The good thing about Cue Card is that he gallops all the way to the line. The faster they go early on suits Cue Card as he has got that great cruising speed.”
In the orange corner is Tom Scudamore, who has handled the pressure that comes with riding a champion like Thistlecrack with aplomb.
“Nothing he’s done so far has other than pleased me,” Scudamore told At The Races.
“He’s an intelligent horse. The last time I rode him at Newbury you couldn’t fault that. He was 110 per cent that day with his jumping so there’s no reason not to go.
“They will still go at a championship pace even with a small field.
“We’ve all been focusing on one horse, but Silviniaco Conti has won two King Georges, Josses Hill is a hell of a horse and there’s Tea For Two as well.
“You don’t want to get sucked into thinking there’s only one horse to beat. They are all Grade One horses.”
One man who certainly knows how to win the race is Paul Nicholls, who has nine victories to his credit through the exploits of Kauto Star, See More Business and Silviniaco Conti.
The latter is back again looking for a third win.
Nicholls told Betfair: “Although he has won this twice in the past I was in two minds about running him in the race again until it looked like it might cut up.
“I blame myself for running him much too soon last time behind Cue Card at Haydock after his previous encouraging performance at Down Royal. There is no doubt he was flat and under performed at Haydock and I regret sending him there.
“We’ve had four weeks to freshen him up and he seemed to enjoy a day out with the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hounds on Monday. He also had a nice spin round Wincanton last week.
“While we are not expecting him to beat Cue Card and Thistlecrack I think Conti is definitely over-priced.
“He has always been best going right-handed and, whatever people say, you have to stay to be competitive in the King George and we know he stays extra well.”
Josses Hill, who is unbeaten in two starts this season, was supplemented for the race as he steps up to three miles for the first time in his career.
Trainer Nicky Henderson told Stan James: “We are well aware that it will be a tough task to beat the Tizzard duo but even if he finishes in the first five we get our money back so we might as well give it a go.
“This all hinges on stamina though as he’s never been three miles and don’t ever, ever let anybody tell you it is an easy three miles around Kempton, because it’s not.
“What happens here is they will go a very solid gallop all the way and there is no hiding place, no breaking point and no respite.
“We’ve seen so many horses that have looked like winning but just not stayed the distance.”