With the Grand National being covered extensively by the boss, I decided in today’s piece to turn my attention to the exceptional talent that is Cue Card.
His performance in the Betfred Bowl Chase was truly stunning, and at the age of 10 he has become one of the most popular horses in training. The Willie Mullins pair of Djakadam and Don Poli did their utmost to run the sting out of Tizzard’s star, but Paddy Brennan had all angles covered and when he asked Cue Card to turn on the turbo’ at the third last, the response was devastating. He swept clear to win by nine lengths, with Don Poli battling on for second.
The Gold Cup is the ultimate test for a top-class staying chaser, and trainer Colin Tizzard will know that he had his horse ready to win at Cheltenham. However, it wasn’t to be on this occasion and his relief at some form of redemption was clear when he said: “I have been saying all season he is in the form of his life and he showed it again today. He has got such an engine on him now, there is no bottom to him. This was fantastic. It was so disappointing at Cheltenham and I am just proud of the horse. It is a brilliant day.”
Tizzard also confirmed that his horse would now head to Punchestown, making a mouth-watering clash with Don Cossack a realistic proposition. “The real big one escaped us this year, but that just shows what a horse he is at the moment,” added the trainer. “He is 10 now and is better than he has ever been. He will go to Punchestown. I entered him yesterday, it was always going to be on the cards. He hasn't had a hard race; he is 10 so there is no reason not to go there.”
It’s clear that whilst Cue Card is in rude health his trainer is keen to allow him to run. There’s been periods during his career when that was simply not possible. Breathing issues, pulled muscles and a stress fracture of his pelvis, are just some of the ailments that have laid him low over the years. However, when on the track, fit and well, he has proven to be an outstanding racehorse.
He exploded onto the scene as a four-year-old in 2010 when romping to victory in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. He was sent off a 40/1 outsider and had Al Ferof eight lengths back in second. That stunning success ensured that he entered his first season over hurdles as one of the leading novices, with many anticipating a bold show in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle back at the Cheltenham Festival. He was duly installed as race favourite, but in a stellar renewal could only manage fourth behind Al Ferof, Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre.
He was campaigned over the minimum trip for much of his novice chase year, culminating in a second place finish in the Arkle behind the exceptional Sprinter Sacre. He finished seven lengths adrift that day, a performance that can now be reflected upon with great pride.
The 2012-13 campaign saw him step-up in trip, after initially winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. Still only a six-year-old, he was sent to Kempton to contest the King George, but failed to spark under ‘hold-up’ tactics in testing ground. He bounced back to form in the Ascot Chase when thrashing Captain Chris; a horse that had finished well ahead of him in the King George just a month or so earlier.
The Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham became the logical target after such an impressive win over 2m5f at Ascot, and that decision was justified when Cue Card ran out an impressive winner by a yawning nine lengths. That victory set up a clash with Sprinter Sacre at Aintree in the Grade 1 Melling Chase, a race that will live long in the memory, and a race that he probably failed to get due recognition, as it was probably one of his greatest performances.
It was Sprinter Sacre that received the accolades for his stunning victory at Aintree, in a truly dazzling display, yet for Cue Card to get within five lengths that day is testament to just how exceptional he is. The two pulled 20 lengths clear of Flemenstar and Finian’s Rainbow. It was an outstanding display by both horses.
The following winter saw him campaigned as a staying chaser. He took the Betfair Chase at Haydock, running away from Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti, giving hope that another crack at the King George would prove successful. Kempton’s showpiece looked sure to go his way until he appeared to run out of gas late on, with Silviniaco profiting.
A spell on the side-lines prevented him from running at Cheltenham in 2014 and when he returned for the 2014/15 season he looked a shadow of his former self. Tizzard discovered the reason for the loss of form when the horse was found to have a trapped epiglottis. The successful operation has allowed the horse to see out the extended trips and has resulted in a truly incredible winter for both horse and trainer.
Victory in the Charlie Hall Chase was followed by success at Haydock in the Betfair and then, rather ironically, a last gasp victory in a thrilling King George. No-one knows what would have happened at Cheltenham had he stood up, but one thing we do know is that Cue Card is now undoubtedly an outstanding staying chaser.
He’s always been a terrific racehorse, but for much of his career failed to get the credit he probably deserved. During this winter he has been physically able to give his best, and that best has proved to be something very special indeed.