Turning big races into victory processions has become a habit for Thistlecrack. That trend continued with his greatest display yet 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 a seamless transition out of novice company.
After taking matters up from dual King George winner Silviniaco Conti as the field headed out on the final circuit, the 11-10 favourite poured on the pressure, and only stablemate and last year's winner Cue Card could match him as the pair pulled clear at 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 winner was cut to 5-4 favourite for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, 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, 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. 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.
Although Scudamore has tasted victories at the top level before, it was clear where this success sat among them.
He said: "It's a wonderful effort to win a King George in your fourth race over fences. It just shows you are dealing with a very special racehorse.
"I don't think I've ever celebrated one before (before the line), it was just all the emotions pouring out there. I'm so proud of him. The day couldn't have got any better as I met Lawrence Dallaglio (former England rugby union star) as well!"
Brennan was magnanimous in defeat. He said: "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. You can make all the excuses in the world, but it's a long time since I've ridden against a horse like that."