It was everything we’d hoped for, and more. In a thrilling William Hill King George VI Chase, the ‘Young Pretender’ did everything right, but was unable to fend off the ‘Comeback King’ in a thrilling finish.
Vautour had soared to the front with virtually a full circuit still remaining. Those in opposition were unable to lead the exuberant chaser, and Ruby Walsh decided to gallop and jump the field to sleep. Often leaping slightly to his left, the habit appeared to be having little effect on the outcome, as turning for home Vautour had every other horse in serious trouble. For a moment it looked likely that he would stretch clear, with Ruby remaining motionless on top.
At the third last it was left to Cue Card and race favourite Don Cossack to take up the chase. Both were under severe driving, yet appeared to be closing on the imperious leader. Bryan Cooper met the second last a little long, and ‘The Don’ paid the price, crumpling on landing and leaving Cue Card alone in his attempt to catch Ruby’s mount.
At the last little more than a length separated the pair. Both got in close and momentum appeared to shift the way of Mullins’ youngster. However, Tizzard’s wonderful chaser found more as the line approached. In one final lung-busting burst he claimed the narrowest of victories.
The ability to settle better in his races along with the vital tinkering of the airway, make this upgraded version of Cue Card one hell of a tough nut to crack. Assuming he stays sound after such a torturous encounter, he will surely head for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham with every chance of winning the £1 million Jockey Club Racecourses bonus.
“He looks like a Gold Cup horse now“, said Tizzard after the momentous victory. He added: “This win is for the horse. He’s been the mainstay of our yard. He was at his brilliant best today. It was a real hot race, and to win is brilliant. Cue Card has been around for a long time, and he means everything to me and a lot of other people.”
Of Vautour, Mullins would not be pressed into any hasty decisions. To many onlookers it appeared that his stamina ran out at the death. However, he travelled like the best horse throughout, and on a sounder surface would surely have won with something in hand. Connections also have Djakadam among their ranks, and this may prove decisive when Festival targets are finally decided upon.
Don Cossack rose from his second last fence tumble, apparently none the worse. He lacks the tactical speed of a Vautour, and that can cause him to be trapped in and amongst horses at this level. Bryan Cooper had been hard at work to get him into a challenging position, and the relentless speed of the King George certainly didn’t play to his strengths, although to his credit he still had every chance when coming down.
The Gold Cup should prove more suitable, though his habit of hitting a few fences when pressure is applied will always leave him with plenty to do. He’s a hugely talented horse, but I’m left with the feeling that everything would have to fall perfectly into place; with gaps appearing at exactly the right moment, if he were to win the big one in March.
But for now all plaudits go to Colin Tizzard and his wonderful Cue Card. To capture the Charlie Hall, the Betfair Chase and then the King George in such a short period is quite an incredible achievement.
And as if that wasn’t enough for the Jump racing sentimentalists, yesterday Sprinter Sacre continued his rehabilitation with a blend of style and guts to take the Desert Orchid Chase. He defeated another former Champion when getting the better of a thrilling duel with Sire De Grugy. Meeting the final fence on a perfect stride, he jumped to the front and held off Gary Moore’s popular chaser.
Unlike Cue Card, Henderson’s hero appears some way short of his imperious best. Yet to have him back winning these top class two mile chases remains a privilege. “I got the feeling two miles around here is sharp enough for him,” said winning trainer Nicky Henderson. “I thought the other horse was getting the best of things but he came back and fought. He is just as good fresh as he is very fit so I would be maybe leaning not to run again before Cheltenham.”
Even those that argue that Jump racing is too Cheltenham focused would surely agree that the last few days at Kempton have proved truly memorable. The King George meeting promised to be one of the best for many a year and it didn’t disappoint.
A winter when a punter can allow the heart to rule the head continues to prove fruitful. This season more than many I can remember is proving to be truly heart-warming. Messrs Tizzard and Henderson would surely agree.