It takes just a matter of hours for cream to rise to the top of freshly drawn milk, a process which requires nothing more strenuous than to just sit back and wait. Such minimal effort would achieve little success in most walks of life, but none more so than in the annual quest to achieve jump racing’s coveted title of Champion Trainer, an accolade only achieved through wisdom, instinct and sheer hard graft.
The rise of Dorset dairy farmer born and bred, Colin Tizzard, to within reach of this year’s Champion Trainer’s title got off to a slow but successful start when he trained two point-to-pointers in 1995 for his son Joe to ride. In this, his first season, he achieved a 100% strike rate with two wins from two runs. It may have been a modest beginning, but his ascent had begun. His success, albeit on a small scale, led to him taking out a full licence three years later. A string of ten horses joined his dairy herd at Venn Farm and the landscape’s colour scheme and sound track began to change. Alongside the black and white grazing cows sped the blurred chestnut, grey, black and bay figures of racehorses; the dull grind of bovine teeth chewing the cud joined by the drumming of equine hooves.
Year on year his tally of winners has grown steadily and, with it, the quantity and quality of his stock. With the odd exception, his successes now include the majority of jump racing’s principal prizes including the Betfair Chase, Hennessy Gold Cup, Welsh Grand National and King George VI chase. But despite the height of his achievements, Colin Tizzard’s feet have remained firmly on the ground, and his comments immediately following some of his greatest moments have always reflected on the fickleness of the sport he now dominates. As you’d expect of someone who’s worked with livestock day in day out for the best part of half a century, he remains acutely aware of risk.
With 48 winners this season and prize money totalling £1,427,570.21 Colin Tizzard now finds himself peering over the shoulder of fellow westcountry trainer Paul Nicholls, who currently tops the trainer’s table at £1,752,161.21. And one of the prizes he has yet to acquire, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, remains achingly within his grasp. In his stable star Cue Card, he had a hugely popular horse last season with the class to win the first two legs of jump racing’s triple crown and every chance of securing the third. Expectations were high that the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and a £1 million bonus, could be coming Colin’s way, but those dreams were ended by a crashing fall when he was very much in contention. Despite Don Cossack’s impressive victory, there were those who remained adamant Cue Card would have got the job done. Alas, it became one of racing’s many ‘what might have been’s.
The pursuit of the triple crown ended at an earlier stage this season, when Cue Card’s valiant effort in the King George VI on boxing day was eclipsed by the jaw-dropping performance of his stable mate Thistlecrack. Colin Tizzard, master of westcountry understatement, summed it up nicely.
Thistlecrack’s emphatic win in last year’s world hurdle had drawn immediate speculation that Colin had another Gold Cup contender on his hands, but few could have predicted the ease of his success over fences, despite his relative inexperience.
Fortunately for Colin Tizzard, there are no quotas restricting Gold Cup entries and he currently has a team of four making the trip to Prestbury Park on 17 March. Native River is well supported, as is the ever-popular Cue Card, but Thistlecrack remains the favourite despite his narrow defeat in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham. An unforgettable race for all the wrong reasons with the loss of his brave conqueror, the mighty Many Clouds.
In terms of the trainers’ championship a Gold Cup win could make all the difference and, if one of his runners delivers, Colin Tizzard may well find himself at the top of the table. His date with destiny is fast approaching and when the bell rings for the jockeys to mount on the last day of the Cheltenham festival, he’ll know it’s milking time. From gold top to Gold Cup? I’d like to think so and, above all, that his runners return home safe and sound, back to the herd in Dorset.