Across the Atlantic American Pharoah’s historic victory thrilled a nation, and proved a fitting conclusion to the Breeders’ Cup. Whilst back in Old Blighty Cue Card reminded us of the enthralling winter that lies ahead.
Action from Wetherby, Ascot and Down Royal provided a notable gear-shift in the latest National Hunt campaign. But it was Colin Tizzard’s stable star that created the headlines. Last season had proved a huge disappointment, when after poor runs at Haydock and Kempton he had to miss the Cheltenham Festival due to on-going wind issues. He was then thumped by Don Cossack at Aintree, before ending the campaign with a promising run at Punchestown. Saturday’s stunning win in the Charlie Hall Chase was a welcome return to form for the popular chaser.
Tizzard had spouted confidently of a big run and so it proved. After the win the trainer said: “Last year he was troubled by a trapped epiglottis, so it is wonderful to see him back to something like his best. We brought him in a month early this time and he's been brilliant all the way through. He's in the Hennessy and on Tuesday morning he'll also be entered in the Betfair Chase, so we've got options.”
The Betfair at Haydock had been the scene of his last success back in 2013, and surely that would now be the logical target, assuming he comes out of the Wetherby victory fit and well. It was the first time Paddy Brennan had partnered the horse in competition and the jockey was clearly thrilled with the win. He rode the horse prominently throughout, taking the lead turning into the straight. There was a moment between the last two fences when Cue Card looked to be tiring, however, he picked up again after the last and was going away at the line.
David Pipe’s pair of Dynaste and Ballynagour ran with great credit in second and third, and at least one of those seem likely to reoppose later this month at Haydock.
Earlier at Wetherby the testing ground had proved a little too much for Rock On Ruby to handle, when he failed to land a blow on impressive winner Kilcooley in the Bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle. The winner is a machine on soft or heavy ground and could prove dominant in staying hurdles throughout the winter if getting his preferred conditions. Charlie Longsdon’s six-year-old ran his rivals ragged in what appeared a lifetime best performance.
Both Rock On Ruby and the third home Aqalim will prove far more competitive on a sounder surface, and cannot be discounted from the major end of season staying events.
Over in Ireland, Don Cossack was cruising to victory in Down Royal’s JNwine.com Champion Chase. He’s a hugely talented chaser with a serious engine; however, his jumping is still sticky at times, and will probably need to improve if he is to beat the very best. He looks likely to head for Kempton and contest the King George, though I’m not certain either the track or style of race would necessarily suit this huge strong galloper.
Yesterday saw the return of another with Gold Cup aspirations when Saphir Du Rheu jumped impeccably at Carlisle. He had to beat The Young Master decisively and duly did so with a round of jumping that will have thrilled his trainer. With Silviniaco Conti likely to swerve Cheltenham next March, Nicholls will be hopeful that Saphir can step into the breach.
As American Pharoah and Golden Horn retire from racing and take up their new careers as stallions, so we welcome familiar heroes to the new National Hunt season. The early signs are certainly positive. Last winter was sensational, and we look set for more of the same.