Tizzard doesn't panic as Thistlecrack beaten by outsider Beer Goggles
Colin Tizzard was left with more questions than answers as his star charge faltered on his return to the track at the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival at Newbury.
Fans of Thistlecrack, who hasn't raced since January, were left scratching their heads as he appeared to run on empty in the Long Distance Hurdle, the meeting's first day showpiece.
The grade two contest was billed as a showdown between its last two winners, with Harry Fry's Unowhatimeanharry expected to be Tizzardâ€™s main challenger after winning ten from 11 last season.
But the pair were upstaged by 40-1 shot Beer Googles, whose trainer Richard Woollacott has just 15 horses in his Devon yard.
Tizzard will certainly now earn his money as he shapes his stable favourite towards his premier targets of the season, the defence of his King George VI Chase title on Boxing Day and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The horse drifted into double digits in the market for the Christmas highlight and what will worry his backers is the manner of this defeat. Tizzard had been bullish about his fitness but a tame fifth will surely cause some concern.
"Before the race he look burly and he ran like that," he admitted.
"He ran a little bit fresh but I think we were absolutely right coming here before the King George. He's a big heavy horse and just found it hard in the last two furlongs. As long as he comes out sound, we shall be going to Kempton."
Elsewhere, Willoughby Court, under a sterling ride from Nico De Boinville, saw off the late challenge of Yanworth to claim top honours in the Novices' Chase.
A winner at this year's Cheltenham Festival, when he scooped the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, Ben Pauling's star charge did not looked totally fluid when he made his debut over fences at Huntingdon.
"I'm thrilled because this is still as short as he wants on a flat track," said Pauling, whose ultimate target this season is Cheltenham's JLT Novices' Chase.
"He wasn't worried like he was at Huntingdon and that was so good to see. He was clever when he needed to be and was brave at a couple of fences when he needed to be as well.
"It was a great ride from Nico, he is exceptional. We'll probably stay at two and a half miles and probably race again at Cheltenham on New Yearâ€™s Day."