Another thrilling weekend brought success for the past, present and future of National Hunt racing.
At Haydock it was Colin Tizzard’s wonderful chaser Cue Card that again stole the show. He added the Betfair Chase to his Charlie Hall success achieved three weeks earlier, as he continues his incredible return to the Premier League of staying chasers.
The style of victory was as startling as the achievement itself. The nine-year-old cruised through the race before moving alongside Silviniaco Conti four fences from home. Paddy Brennan hardly moved a muscle on top, as his horse swept to the front, pulling clear for a ‘hard-held’ seven length winning margin.
The breathing operation has clearly worked wonders and connections will be full of excitement at what may lie ahead. “Why would we run away from Kempton? There is no reason not to go there,” said Tizzard after the race. “If he is in the form he is in now he would run in the Gold Cup, that is the ultimate race and he has proved he stays. He did it easier today, it was always going to happen, I thought. We thought Wetherby was brilliant but we were getting the conditions of the race and today he was taking them all on and he has done it really well.”
Brennan could hardly contain himself after his second success aboard the classy chaser. He said: “Unbelievable. After Imperial Commander I never thought I would get the chance to sit on something as good or a Gold Cup horse. The way Cue Card went around there today he felt like a Gold Cup horse.”
A rather subdued Paul Nicholls, trainer of Silviniaco Conti, said: “Cue Card was very good and there are no excuses. He's run a nice race and they can't win every time. He jumped a little to the right and we might put the blinkers back on him next time as he races a bit lazily. I suppose we will go to Kempton next.”
It’s hard to imagine Silviniaco Conti turning the tables on a rejuvenated Cue Card at Kempton, although as a guest on the Morning Line earlier, Nicholls had hinted that another couple of week’s preparation would have been ideal to have his charge 100% for the Haydock race. This being the case, it may be unwise to completely rule out the duel King George winner.
Whilst Cue Card was confirming his status as this winter’s ‘Golden Oldie’, down at Ascot Vautour was opening his account at senior level. His novice chase campaign was simply sensational and his return had been eagerly anticipated. The Stella Artois 1965 Chase appeared a perfect starting point with the King George in mind, but he was made to work for his win by another classy sort in Ptit Zig. Jumping slightly out to his left on occasion, Vautour was nevertheless impressive, only making one noticeable error when stepping at a fence midway down the back straight.
Mullins was more than happy, saying: “It's great to win. He jumped a little left, I haven't had a chance to chat with Ruby about it yet. Maybe it was just fitness, he was taking on race-fit horses and he had to travel to England and that's hard to do for your first run. He didn't look as good as people might have hoped that he could be, but I think he'll improve.”
The man on top was also pretty pleased with the day’s work, when after the race Ruby said: “He made a mistake at the bottom of the hill second time around and he was a bit fresh going to post and rusty in the race. Ptit Zig had that match fitness and our horse was big and rusty. He'll improve a hell of a lot for today. I like horses that can win like that when only half fit.”
Vautour will almost certainly head to Kempton for a clash with Cue Card and Don Cossack amongst others. Of the Christmas showpiece Mullins added: “It's going to be a cracker of a King George.”
Ptit Zig came close to causing a major upset, and may well have another crack at the Mullins star over Christmas. Part-owner Barry Fulton initially appeared indifferent to a possible re-match in Kempton's Christmas showpiece, but after sleeping on the matter seemed rather more enthusiastic on Sunday morning.
He said: “He ran really well. He obviously had a fitness advantage over Vautour, who looked like he needed the run, but we were delighted with our horse. For a moment I was getting excited two out, but Vautour was always in control. I'm not sure what we'll do now. Initially I thought we wouldn't go for the King George, but after watching it again, I wonder whether we might have a go. The Peterborough Chase is only a fortnight away and will probably come too soon, so what else can he go for?”
With Silviniaco having disappointed slightly in the Betfair Chase you can be pretty sure that Nicholls will be eager to throw another top-class chaser at the King George. Still only six, Ptit Zig has looked his best with plenty of juice in the ground and would surely be a major player if he took his chance at Christmas.