King hopeful of Triumph Glory after Redicean Romp at Kempton

Redicean put in another dazzling display at Kempton and heads to Cheltenham as a leading contender for the Triumph Hurdle.

He’s now generally a 5/1 second-favourite for the juvenile showpiece behind Nicky Henderson’s Apple’s Shakira. He’s one of the few youngsters to have had the opportunity of proving his ability on both testing and quicker ground.

There’s no doubting he was mightily impressive on Saturday. Travelling powerfully throughout, his jumping was accurate, and when asked to quicken he instantly put the race to bed, showing the acceleration that had been evident on a more testing surface.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Malaya did best of the rest, though she was seven-lengths back at the finish. That form-line suggests that Redicean has more to find when he arrives at Cheltenham. Nevertheless, his ability to travel powerfully through a race and then quicken on demand makes him a realistic contender. He also stayed 1m6f on the flat, which suggests that famous hill should hold no fears. Trainer Alan King was winning the race for the fourth time and completed the Adonis/Triumph double back in 2005 with Penzance.

The trainer was clearly excited by the performance, saying: “He has probably jumped 200 hurdles since last time. It was a rush to get him here for the Christmas meeting as we only got him in October. He was then gelded, so he was on the back burner for a while. He was always going to get better. I thought he was very accurate today.

“He got a mile-six on the Flat so he will stay. I've not deliberately kept coming here, it was just that's the way it suited. Penzance never saw the hill and he managed to win a Triumph. I don't think the ground matters. This is the best ground he has raced on so far. Better ground will probably help. He hadn't beaten much up until today and he has come through it well.”

His jockey, Wayne Hutchinson, was similarly impressed: “Breathtaking - I was adamant he would jump better in a truer run race and he proved that today and he settled better, always in my comfort zone and he’s gone through the gears with ease.”

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Meanwhile at Newcastle, the star of the show was the Nicky Richards-trained Baywing. This was the nine-year-olds first attempt at a marathon trip, and clearly won’t be his last. Given a peach of a ride by Ryan Day, this son of Winged Love revelled in conditions. Held up off the pace, he began to make a forward move turning for home, before being delivered perfectly at the final fence. A wonderful leap at the last ensured he grabbed the initiative from West Of The Edge, before powering to a four-length success.

Richards told Press Association Sport: “He got into a good rhythm, jumped well and has seen it out well. After he won the Towton, though it was a good race to win at the time, it sort of limited our options to get experience into him. I've always thought he was a talented horse. Soft ground is important to him. It might be that we look at the Midlands National or something. We'll just see, we're in no rush and he's won a nice prize today.”

Away from the racecourse, there was important Cheltenham Festival news delivered by Colin Tizzard. In a meeting with owner Jean Bishop, the decision has been made to run Cue Card in the Ryanair Chase, rather than take on the Gold Cup. “We've discussed it and we thought he was in very good form over two-five, he has won the Ryanair, and the Gold Cup is a hard race and the best chance of winning is the Ryanair,” said Tizzard.

The trainer continued: “It was not a hard decision in the end. Our heads are ruling our hearts and it's the most obvious race for him and we can concentrate and go straight on into it. He is race fit and if we take that form from here to Cheltenham, we will have a chance. Paddy (Brennan) will be on board.”

Having lost to Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle of 2012, Cue Card returned a year later and romped to a stunning success in the Ryanair Chase, defeating First Lieutenant by nine-lengths. A month later he ran arguably his best ever race, when getting within five lengths of Sprinter Sacre in the Melling Chase at Aintree. Henderson’s superstar was at the peak of his powers, yet for much of the race Cue Card had the audacity to share the stage.

He was to step-up in trip late in 2013 and impressed in winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock. A month later he lost the King George having looked sure to win halfway up the straight. A poor season followed, before the sensational winter of 2015. Now aged nine, he took the Charlie Hall, the Betfair and the King George, but at Cheltenham came down at the third last when seemingly in with a great chance of landing the Gold Cup.

Having won another Betfair Chase in 2016, he came off second-best to Thistlecrack in the King George. Another terrific performance followed in the Ascot Chase at 2m5f, but connections could not resist stepping up for another crack at Cheltenham’s blue riband. Sadly, Cue Card was again to crash out at the third last, though on this occasion looked to be struggling at the time.

This campaign hadn’t gone to plan thus far, but he appeared back to somewhere near his best when chasing home Waiting Patiently at Ascot last time. A decision needed to be made as to his Cheltenham target. Tizzard had mentioned the ‘unfinished business’ of the Gold Cup, yet opting for the Ryanair is without doubt the sensible choice. Aside from Waiting Patiently, he hammered classy types in Frodon and Top Notch in that recent Ascot Chase. If he’s as good at The Festival, the 12-year-old may yet deliver a show-stopping finale.

Jefferson Joy – Patience pays as stable star lands Ascot Chase

Emotions ran high on Saturday, as Waiting Patiently maintained his perfect record over fences when capturing the Grade One Ascot Chase.

The classy seven-year-old is now under the guidance of Ruth Jefferson following the death of her father. Always held in high regard, the youngster’s progress has been measured, with the team mindful of allowing the horse time to mature. They are now reaping the rewards, with the young chaser taking this step up in grade in his stride.

It looked a hot renewal with Top Notch, Coney Island and the old warrior Cue Card in opposition. And it was Tizzard’s 12-year-old stable star that proved the toughest nut to crack. He was ridden aggressively by Paddy Brennan, responding bravely to the jockey’s urgings. Turning for home the pair drew clear of the field, with Waiting Patiently cruising alongside his older rival. He led at the last and stayed on strongly to win by just shy of three lengths. The pair stretched 15 lengths clear of Frodon in third, with a slightly disappointing Top Notch back in fourth.

“He jumps and he travels and when Brian says go he just does,” said Jefferson after the win. “He’s uncomplicated and it’s lovely to watch a horse like that. He’s grown up a lot this year and just seems much more mature.” Speaking of her father, she added: “He liked to take time with his horses. He said ‘if you look after them when they are young, they will look after you when you’re old’. He’d be proud and I must thank him because Richard (Collins, owner) sent the horse to him, not me! I’m thrilled to bits, thrilled for Richard and for everyone at home. I think dad would be crying now.”

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The horse needs cut in the ground and Jefferson was adamant that should conditions not suit, the horse would not be running in the Ryanair Chase. “Cheltenham isn’t the be-all and end-all, there’s Aintree or Punchestown. There's also just a slight suspicion that he's better on flatter tracks and there's no hiding place at Cheltenham. I'm not saying we'll never go there, but if we're not 100 per cent happy we won't go.”

Speaking yesterday, the trainer reiterated that a trip to Prestbury Park is far from certain, whilst hinting that the King George is a likely target next term: “He could run again this season, but it won't be the end of the world for us if he doesn't and there are races we're looking at next season. It's an easy three miles at Kempton and he's settling better now, so you would like to think he'd stay and he has form on the track.”

Colin Tizzard was understandably thrilled with the performance of Cue Card. Back to something like his exuberant best, the stable hero is set to head to Cheltenham for one last hurrah. The trainer enthused: “That was lovely. He gives everything and it's a serious horse that's beat him today. He showed what he’s been showing us on the gallops every day. It’s definitely Cheltenham next. We have unfinished business in the Gold Cup and he’s won a Ryanair. Jean (Bishop, owner) will decide and we’ll do what’s best for the horse.”

Should he head for the ‘Blue Riband’ he’ll line up alongside Jess Harrington’s Our Duke. Last year’s Irish National winner bounced back to his best in winning the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park. Speaking yesterday the Gold Cup winning trainer said: “Everything is good this morning and the plan is for Noel Fehily to ride Our Duke at Cheltenham, providing Sizing John gets there and Robert rides him. I was delighted with him yesterday. It was brilliant to see him do that. I'm very lucky to have the two of them, but we've got to get them there now.”

Our Duke’s odds were cut to around 8s, whilst Sizing John is a 6/1 shot. The talented novice, Presenting Percy, was runner-up in Saturday’s Gowran showpiece. It was huge performance from the youngster on just his fourth start over fences. A winner at last year’s Festival, he looks sure to go close in the RSA for which he’s now as short as 5/2.

Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently has Star Potential in Ascot Chase

In its short history, the Ascot Chase has been won by numerous outstanding chasers.

Martha’s Son took the first during a sparkling campaign in 1995. He suffered an injury the following season which kept him off the track for 15 months. Returning to the track at the age 10, he produced two stunning performances to win the Champion Chase and then the Melling at Aintree.

One Man won the renewal of 1998 and a month later he too landed the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. A truly wonderful chaser, he’d already won a string of prestigious races including the Hennessy Gold Cup, the King George and the Charlie Hall. Tragically, One Man was to die that season, after a shocking fall in the Melling at Aintree.

The following year another grey, Teeton Mill, took the Ascot Chase. Like One Man, he won this after success in the Hennessy and the King George. Those three victories were scintillating, as he tore the fields apart in devastating fashion. Sadly, he suffered an injury during the Gold Cup later that campaign and never returned to the track.

Monet’s Garden (yes, another grey) and Kauto Star won in 2007 and 2008, with Monet’s winning again in 2010. Cue Card captured the race for the second-time last year, and will look to surpass Tiutchev, Monet’s and Riverside Theatre in becoming the first to win the prestigious event on three occasions.

Tizzard’s stable star returns to Ascot having had a decent break since a slightly disappointing display behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase. Stable talk suggests he’s working as well as ever, though it’s inevitably a concern that the old warrior is now 12. Trip and track look ideal, but the odds are stacked against the old favourite as he takes on several talented youngsters.

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Top Notch heads the betting following a strong winter campaign. He was impressive at the track in November when easily accounting for Double Shuffle and Frodon. That form has been boosted since. In December he landed the Grade Two Peterborough Chase, defeating stable companion Josses Hill. The diminutive chaser is neat at his fences and is not short of speed. He’s reliable rather than spectacular, though is without doubt progressive.

Waiting Patiently is five from five over fences and put in a career best performance last time at Kempton, when thrashing a decent field which included God’s Own and Josses Hill. He’s arguably the horse in the field with star potential. Thought to need soft or heavy ground to perform at his best (by Flemensfirth), he had no problem with good to soft last time. Ascot looks sure to suit and the trip is ideal. This is another step up the ladder for the young chaser, but he looks capable of handling it.

Also towards the head of the betting is the Irish raider Coney Island. Another son of Flemensfirth, this fella is touted as a serious Gold Cup contender. Trainer Eddie Harty remains undecided as to the Cheltenham target and this race should tell us whether he has the speed for a tilt at the Ryanair. He impressed on his return from injury when winning at Ascot in December and should strip fitter this time. His profile suggests he’ll be finishing the race strongly. The question is whether he can keep tabs on quicker horses like Top Notch and Waiting Patiently?

Frodon deserves a shot at this after a demolition job at Cheltenham last time. The softer the better for this six-year-old, though it’s hard to see him reversing the 10-length thumping that Top Notch served up back in November. That race followed on quickly from a terrific run behind Might Bite and his trainer, Paul Nicholls, will be hopeful that the youngster can get closer this time.

Speredek put in a huge performance from the front last time in the Clarence House, before finally giving way to the outstanding Un De Sceaux. That was at two miles and it’s hard to imagine this free-running sort will be suited by a step-up in trip. He’s likely to put in another solid round, but I can only see him setting the race up for the top three in the betting.

Of those, I’m siding with Waiting Patiently. I’m a huge fan of Top Notch, but my Dad always told me to take ‘a good big-un over a good little-un every time’. Coney Island will be doing his best work late-on, but I fancy the other pair have the gears to give him the slip.

Best of luck to those having a punt. It should prove a cracker.

A Bristol Blitz – It’s De Mai All The Way

Bristol De Mai romped to victory in Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Simply devastating in the testing conditions, he led from start to finish, stretching effortlessly clear of his pursuers, hitting the line an incredible 57-lengths clear of runner-up Cue Card. It was a dream ride for Daryl Jacob who simply pointed the six-year-old in the right direction and then sat motionless for seven minutes. In his three racecourse victories, BDM has now amassed a cumulative winning margin of 110 lengths.

The winner has always been held in high regard by his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who said: “That was very good. I didn't have to worry about too much. I only had to worry about the last few fences and he jumped them well. We've had a brief chat and the idea would be the King George, the Cotswold Chase and then the Gold Cup. You might not get this ground (at Kempton), but we'll see.

“He goes out and has his own way of doing it. He has a big engine and can go faster than that. He's always worked fantastically well and he's a supreme horse. He's very much an Imperial Commander type - he's a big, strong, gorgeous horse. We were in a bit of a rush to get to the Gold Cup last year. He was ready, but I don't think he was at his best. From what he does at home you wouldn't think he's improved from last season, but he obviously has. He was beaten 20 lengths in the Gold Cup. It's a shame Sizing John isn't here so we could find out.”

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Owner Simon Munir was clearly thrilled with the victory and said: “That's absolutely amazing. It's wonderful. These are the days that one comes into racing for. Just speaking to Daryl and he's in a state of shock. He was saying he wanted to increase the pace. He thought everybody had fallen behind him. To win by 57 lengths is amazing. I thought it could be game over when he got in too tight two out, but he's a clever horse and he adjusts himself very well. The King George is what we're looking at.”

Though beaten out of sight, Cue Card did battle on bravely for second spot. Colin Tizzard looked a little shell-shocked, but gave an honest appraisal, saying: “The grey horse has run a marvellous race and galloped them all into the ground. He’s never come off the bridle really. I think he's (Cue Card) run on par with his other runs. He's just been beaten by a very good horse on the day. The winner blew the race away. He jumped round and galloped on and finished second. We'll go back home and see how he is.”

It’s tough to judge whether this was a below-par performance from the runner-up, as Bristol De Mai appears to do this to everyone at Haydock. It’s probably fair to say that he didn’t travel as well as he can. Harry Cobden was niggling away at him on the first circuit, and it appeared an effort to keep tabs on the winner. His jumping was solid throughout despite him being under pressure for much of the contest. It seems clear that his best days are now behind him. The Ascot Chase in February may be his last hope of further Grade One success. He has won the race twice and would be looking to emulate Monet’s Garden, in winning the race as a 12-year-old.

As for Bristol de Mai, all roads now lead to Kempton at Christmas. Despite having run 16 times over fences, this will be his debut at the track. He has won over fences at Sandown, though this will be more of a test of speed. He also needs to prove himself an elite chaser on a sounder surface. The King George will tell us whether this youngster is truly top-class, or rather a soft-ground bully. I for one, remain in the undecided camp.

The Worlds End to be Haydock Hero

The Betfair Chase commands top-billing at Haydock on Saturday, with Cue Card attempting to win the prestigious event for the fourth time.

Bristol De Mai looks set to be sent off favourite following his success in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. With ground and track ideal, he certainly looks a major player. Outlander travels over the Irish Sea, and though erratic, is a class act on his day. Good enough to win the Lexus last Christmas, he bounced back to form last time with victory in the Champion Chase. And Tea For Two can’t be dismissed based on his Betway Bowl success at Aintree. He also ran a cracker in last year’s King George and should strip much fitter following his slightly disappointing performance in last month’s Old Roan.

With so few entered and none at a price worth an each-way punt, I’ve decided to look elsewhere for the Friday Preview. For what it’s worth, I’m keeping faith with Cue Card. Despite his age I think he’ll prove too good.
I’ve decided to have a crack at Haydock’s Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle, formerly the Fixed Brush, despite it appearing to be the most open renewals in living memory.

First run in 2005, the roll of honour is a pretty tasty one for a handicap. Halcon Genelardais won in 2006 and a month later romped to victory in the Welsh National. Diamond Harry was an immense talent, and he landed the prize in 2009. A year later he was a thrilling winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup, with the mighty Denman back in third. David Pipe has won the race with a trio of French-bred five-year-olds. The best of these was Dynaste, who went on to become a high-class staying chaser. He came close to landing a Betfair Chase and the King George, whilst in 2014 he was successful in the Ryanair chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Pipe has a similar type in tomorrow’s renewal, with Champers On Ice returning to hurdles after a disappointing term over fences. By French stallion Robin Des Champs, the seven-year-old never took to the larger obstacles, but on his last outing over hurdles was a terrific third in the Albert Bartlett of 2016 behind Unowhatimeanharry. He’s on an attractive handicap mark and is sure to be primed for a strong performance. He does lack gears, though testing conditions should make that less of a factor.

The Worlds End is favourite for the race following an impressive season as a novice. The six-year-old came down at the second-last when mounting a huge challenge in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in March. He made amends at Aintree when taking the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle. His pedigree suggests he’ll handle conditions, as does his exaggerated knee action. Horses trained by Tom George tend to thrive in testing ground. He was an impressive winner on his only previous visit to Haydock when giving weight and a thrashing to Dan Skelton’s No Hassle Hoff.

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The Harry Fry-trained Minella Awards is next best in the betting. The six-year-old ended the last campaign with victory at the Punchestown Festival, battling bravely to defeat No Comment. He’s a big chasing type and a thorough stayer. By Oscar out of a Presenting mare, he appeared to be suited by the better ground in Ireland and that may be a slight concern.

Nick Williams has won two of the last eight and has a fancied contender in the French-bred Le Rocher. A classy juvenile, he lost a season through injury and arguably hasn’t quite progressed as hoped. Nevertheless, he loves testing ground and if coping with this step-up in trip could prove a huge player. He’s by Saint De Saints and ought to thrive at the distance. He’s won five of his 11 starts over hurdles and should be fighting fit after a pipe-opener in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow in October.

Sam Spinner was ahead of him that day, and the Jedd O’Keeffe-trained five-year-old has plenty of scope for further improvement. Yet to be out of the first two in seven starts under rules, he’s another that needs to cope with this extended trip, though he certainly wasn’t stopping last time. Up 3lbs for the Chepstow run, he looks well treated and must to have a great chance if lasting home.

Gayebury has bits of form that would certainly give him a chance in this. He’ll appreciate both trip and conditions, though was somewhat disappointing on his reappearance when tailed off in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby. Evan Williams has put a 5lb claimer onboard which offsets a handicap mark which looks slightly high. Of those at a decent price, he has a chance.

Three Musketeers is an intriguing contender. Dan Skelton’s seven-year-old looked a future star a couple of years back, but when sent over fences his form proved patchy. He showed hints of an improvement at Aintree last time, and an interesting handicap mark, coupled with testing conditions could see him surprising a few.

This is a race that rarely produces a shock winner, and though predictable I’ll be siding with The Worlds End. He has course form and looked to be one of the leading novice hurdlers last term. I’ll also have a few quid on Dan Skelton’s Three Musketeers. I’m hoping that soft ground, a generous handicap mark and Bridget Andrews taking a further 3lbs off his back will all play a part in a much-improved display.

Best of luck to those having a punt.

Sizing John No Show A Blow

It came as something of a shock when yesterday Jess Harrington announced that her Gold Cup winner, Sizing John, would not be making the trip to Haydock for the Betfair Chase on Saturday.

“Sadly, he's not running because the ground is soft, heavy in places and there's a bit more rain due,” said Harrington. “It's just the ground. I've been a bit worried all week. I didn't mind soft, genuine soft ground, but when they start putting heavy into Haydock, it gets very heavy. Plan B will be the John Durkan and then we'll take it from there.”

There’s no doubting that the trainer has Sizing John’s well-being at heart. Nevertheless, her decision goes against the wishes of the late Alan Potts, who had targeted the £1million bonus offered by the Jockey Club for a horse winning the Betfair Chase, the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in the same season.

It’s hard to imagine that Alan Potts was solely driven by the thought of a million, but rather by the chance of creating a piece of history in emulating the achievement of the mighty Kauto Star.

Just a couple of days back, Harrington spoke of racecourse gallops, and of having the horse ‘as fit as I can have him’ prior to the trip over. Sizing John has won eight times under rules, with half of those victories coming on testing ground. His first attempt at three-miles came when winning the Irish Gold Cup in challenging conditions at Leopardstown. Those committing to a Haydock trip in November tend to know what to expect, with the last five Betfair Chase renewals being run on soft or heavy.

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Fans and punters will be disappointed by the decision, and the withdrawal certainly leaves the race looking a little threadbare on quality. Though the ground is likely to be better for the King George at Christmas, there must now be doubt over Sizing John’s participation in Kempton’s showpiece. The likelihood of the Gold Cup winner staying home throughout the winter has greatly increased since Harrington’s other high-class chaser Our Duke, is now on sick leave. He’s recovering from an operation on his back, and will likely be out until February, leaving an opening for a Harrington contender in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

With the headline act missing, Colin Tizzard will be far more optimistic that Cue Card can add a fourth Betfair Chase to his CV. Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, yet a victory for the stable star on Saturday would surely spark scenes reminiscent of those witnessed in 2011. Back then it was Kauto Star, also as an 11-year-old, that captured his fourth Betfair having been dismissed by many as on the wane. Those that were there will never forget the emotional return to the winner’s enclosure.

Last year’s Betfair Chase victory came on heavy ground, and arguably his best performance of last season came in testing conditions when romping home in the Ascot Chase. There’s little doubt that Cue Card now operates as well as any staying chaser when the mud is flying. Harry Cobden is tasked with keeping tabs on race favourite Bristol De Mai, who seems likely to be ridden positively by Daryl Jacob.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained seven-year-old also thrives in the prevailing conditions and is unbeaten at Haydock. In his two outings at the Lancashire track, he has won by a combined 54 lengths. He was mightily impressive in the Grade Two Peter Marsh Chase back in January, when cruising to a 22-length success as those around him floundered in the mud. Cue Card will be a much tougher nut to crack, but BDM looks a beast when conditions suit.

Despite the disappointment of a Sizing John no show, the sight of the old warrior pursuing the young pretender should still have pulses racing come Saturday afternoon.

Harry’s Game

Dan and Harry Skelton continue to make their mark, despite the big-guns beginning to unleash their major players.

Currently second in the trainers’ championship, the Warwickshire team made a fabulous start to the current campaign, and though realistic in their ambitions, will be hoping for further success, such as the promising performance from North Hill Harvey at Cheltenham on Sunday.

Ridden with supreme confidence by Harry Skelton, the imposing young chaser had the race won some distance from home. Cool and calm on top, Skelton met the last two fences on a perfect stride and the horse did the rest. He may not be a World beater, but this young chaser now has four wins to his name at Cheltenham, including last year’s Greatwood Hurdle. A fast run two-mile appears ideal, and there’s scope for plenty more improvement.

The way with which Harry goes about his business is testament to the professionalism of the Skelton’s. Completely immersed in all things Lodge Hill, Harry will be found working and schooling the equine team every day. A stylish, well-balanced young jockey (still only 28), he is particularly strong in a driving finish, low over the horse, getting every drop of effort from his mount. He shuns the limelight, despite himself lying second in the jockeys’ title race, instead praising big-brother Dan for supplying the quality ammunition.

It’s no secret that the Skelton’s are going places, but Harry is undoubtedly a vital component in the team’s success.

Another Harry who sees his stock rising at a rate of knots, is young Harry Cobden. Weather permitting, this coming Saturday he’ll be aboard chasing royalty in Cue Card. A regular these days for both Colin Tizzard and Paul Nicholls, and yet still just 19, this has been an incredible period for the young man from Somerset.

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Another that graduated from the pony racing circuit, Cobden has already won his fair share of prestigious races. Paul Nicholls entrusted him with Old Guard in the Greatwood Hurdle of 2015, despite his lack of experience. The then 7lb claimer didn’t disappoint, timing his challenge to perfection before pulling clear after the last.

A year later, the young jock was landing his first Grade One, when driving Irving to a thrilling victory in the Fighting Fifth, defeating Apple’s Jade by a nose. At the time Cobden said of the victory: “To win a Grade One is what dreams are made of and I’m grateful to Mr Nicholls and the owners for putting me on him. To put a 3lb claimer on, in a race like that, may not be the done thing in some eyes, but thankfully the boss has faith in me.”

The conditional jockeys title followed for the youngster, and those occasional ‘good rides’ have become a regular occurrence. He had a couple of victories at Cheltenham over the weekend. He was onboard Posh Trish for Nicholls in the listed mares’ bumper. And then rode Tizzard’s classy young hurdler, Slate House, to victory in the Supreme Novice Trial. He also came close to landing the Handicap Chase aboard Vicente, rather ironically losing out to Paddy Brennan and Perfect Candidate.

On Saturday we’ll see if Paddy’s loss is Harry’s gain. Win or lose, there’s no doubting this young man has a bright future in the saddle.

You’d think a pair of upwardly mobile Harry’s would be enough for one article, but it would be unfair to leave out 23-year-old Harry Bannister, who is currently enjoying something of a purple patch. With four wins from his last eight rides, including a double at Southwell yesterday, this young man can do little wrong. Most of his opportunities are coming aboard horses trained by Harry Whittington (I know, hard to believe isn’t it), and a strike-rate of 22% is testament to just how well things are going this season.

But this wouldn’t be horse racing if several highs were not followed by a shattering low. And so it was at Cheltenham, when Whittington’s talented mare Glenmona, ridden by young Harry, stumbled in the back straight resulting in her death. Bannister will have been shaken by such a blow, but jockeys know just how quickly fortunes can change.

Despite the Cheltenham setback, this Harry double-act is clearly flourishing and let’s hope that there are many more successful days to come.

Some will feel that I missed a trick in not exploring in more depth, the achievements of Harry Fry in this piece, especially as he had a winner at Leicester on Sunday by the name of Old Harry Rocks. But this article was always intended to cover the emergence of young Harry’s in the saddle. And the trio profiled are certainly heading in the right direction.

Cobden call-up on Cue Card

Cue Card, Coneygree and Our Duke hit the headlines at the weekend, for all the wrong reasons.

And yesterday it was dear old Cue Card that again made the news, as the Tizzard team decided a change of jockey is required in the hope of resurrecting the chaser’s winning ways. Having hit the deck twice in his last three starts, Paddy Brennan has been asked to step-aside, and it will be young Harry Cobden that takes the reins in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

The 19-year-old has impressed in his short time in the saddle, and has been riding regularly for both Paul Nicholls and Colin Tizzard. This is a huge opportunity for the young man, and he is clearly thrilled to be given the chance. Speaking yesterday he said: “I schooled him this morning and he felt A1. I'm very much looking forward to riding him. It is a great opportunity for a young jockey to pick up a ride like that and the target is the Betfair Chase. I ride out for Colin every Wednesday and I know all the horses well. I've not really got any commitments in Graded races, so it will be nice riding a horse like that as these opportunities don't come around too often.”

There’s no doubting it’s tough on Paddy Brennan. He’s had some fabulous times on Cue Card, most notably the thrilling King George success of 2015, when getting up in the final strides to defeat the wonderful Vautour. Brennan will still ride for the Tizzard’s, but this will still be a blow for the jock.

Colin Tizzard spoke of the decision yesterday afternoon: “I spoke to Paddy on Monday and said I thought the horse deserved to have a change of rider as he has fallen twice out of the last three times. He said it was fair enough. It's not a big issue changing jockey as we do it all the time, but it might be on Cue Card because of his profile. It is a different set of hands on board, so we will see what happens.”

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The trainer added: “Harry might be available for two or three races, whereas a lot of the top jockeys are already on the best horses. I like the idea of having a younger man on him. I've known Harry all my life and he has got plenty of experience. He has ridden a lot of winners for us and he is a good young rider. I consulted Jean (Bishop, Cue Card's owner) about it and she is a very loyal person, but she thought the horse deserved a new rider. He (Cobden) will be scrutinised, no doubt, but getting on Cue Card when you are 19 years old, he should be chuffed.”

With Tizzard’s older statesman looking to land his fourth Betfair Chase at Haydock, the yard’s younger star was among 26 entries for the King George at Christmas. Thistlecrack won Kempton’s Christmas cracker last December, and is on course to attempt a repeat performance.

Speaking on the Jockey Club's Love The Jumps podcast a week ago, the Dorset trainer said: “We had him in first week in August, we're now nearly in November and we're just starting to go a bit faster with him. He's got a month of fast work and he'll be ready to run. He'll have a hurdle before we go in the King George because we can't really go there first time up. I feel his legs once a week now and someone else feels them every other day and they seem absolutely fine.”

Earlier this week Tizzard confirmed that the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury would act as Thistlecrack’s King George warm-up run. He took the race in 2015, and it would leave a gap of almost four weeks before that huge event at Kempton.

Tizzard also spoke of last year’s Gold Cup third, Native River. The seven-year-old is set for a light campaign, with another crack at Cheltenham’s Gold Cup the prime objective. He’ll not be seen until the new year, with connections keen to have him spot-on for the big day.

Might Bite, Sizing John, Douvan and Djakadam were other eye-catching entries for what may well prove to be a stellar renewal of the King George. Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite looks likely to head to Sandown for his seasonal debut on Sunday. The three-mile 188Bet Future Stars Intermediate Chase appears the ideal starting point, giving the young chaser vital practice before taking on the ‘big guns’ over Christmas. The opportunity of having another run on a right-handed track would also have been on Henderson’s mind when choosing this as a pipe-opener.

Sizing John has the million-pound bonus on his agenda for this campaign. He’ll head for the Betfair Chase before a crack at the King George. The cheque will be handed over should he win both and then repeat his Gold Cup success at Cheltenham. Sounds easy enough.

Frustration Home and Away

It’s tough not to feel a little let down by the latest Breeders’ Cup.

Concerns over the tightness of the track prior to racing appeared justified, as luck played a far too significant role in the outcome of several races. A fast break from the stalls became crucial, especially for those drawn on the wide outside. The racing did prove dramatic, though hard-luck stories became the norm, with many high-profile thoroughbreds running no sort of race.

Gun Runner certainly did run his race. The Steve Asmusson-trained four-year-old led the Breeders’ Cup Classic from the off and stayed-on powerfully to beat a pair of Bob Baffert trained colts. Last year’s star Arrogate failed to spark, starting slowly and finishing a good half-dozen lengths adrift.

The Breeders’ Cup Turf went to Europe once again, though not to last year’s winner Highland Reel. O’Brien’s colt put in another solid performance in running a close third, though it was the Andre Fabre-trained Talismanic that ran-out an impressive winner. He got the better of Chad Brown’s Beach Patrol in an exciting three-way go for the line.

The Mile Turf went to American favourite World Approval. Few sob-stories here to be fair, as the favourite pulled away from the pack for a stylish success. Lancaster Bomber finished well for second, with Ribchester a little one-paced back in fifth.

There was more European success in the Filly & Mare Turf, with Godolphin’s Wuheida defeating O’Brien’s Rhododendron. The winner received a ‘Peach of a ride’ from William Buick, but the runner-up looked a little unfortunate. Pinned on the rail, Moore found a gap a little too late to catch the winner. Queen’s Trust was another who had a luckless passage. No room, no gaps, no chance. She flew home when Dettori finally found daylight, but the bird had long-since flown.

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Frustration in America was mirrored in the UK and Ireland, with several high-profile jumpers fluffing their lines, and yet more concerns over the troubled Coneygree.

The Charlie Hall clash at Wetherby between Cue Card and Coneygree failed to materialize. The low sun was blamed for the latter’s jumping error which caused his latest injury. Thankfully he looks likely to be back in action sooner rather than later, with Newbury in early December still a possibility.

“Obviously we were desperately disappointed because Nico said he felt unbelievable over the first two and then he thinks he was just simply distracted by the sun and just dived,” said trainer Sara Bradstock. “He's overreached at the next one because he's jumped too high. The reason it worried him was because he couldn't see the fence. He's such a good jumper. It's a slice into the bulb of his heel and before we have him jumping again, we will have to make sure it's not hurting him. That can take three or four days or, in the worse situation, three to four weeks.”

Cue Card came down five from home, with Paddy Brennan at the time saying the sun was also to blame. Thankfully rider and horse were fine, and the Betfair Chase at Haydock remains a possibility. Tizzard would not be drawn on targets when saying: “He fell again at a similar stage as where he did before. We've got to get our head round all that. There's no reasoning. We've looked at the race and he was going as easily as anything when he fell. He was perfectly well this morning and trotted out absolutely fine.”

The race eventually went to Bristol De Mai, who fought off stable companion Blaklion. It was a record fifth win in the race for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, and he was as bullish as ever when talking of future targets for the winner. Speaking to Racing UK he said: “It will be the Betfair Chase next for Bristol De Mai. He should get his soft ground and he likes it there although he has run some good races on good ground as well. I think he is a very serious contender for the Gold Cup. When he ran in it last year the ground was a bit quick for him and he didn’t run his best race. If he jumps like he did on Saturday he will be right there at the finish.”

Over in Ireland, Our Duke was strongly fancied to win the Chase, but Jess Harrington’s young chaser ran a stinker, trailing home last in a race won by Outlander. He did scope badly after the race, with the trainer saying: “Our Duke is sound, he scoped wrong. He has done it once before. They took some bloods from him [on Sunday morning] and we'll now put him on antibiotics. I just don't know and I'm scratching my head. He was gone after the first fence.”

It was only his fifth run over fences, and a brave decision from Harrington to take on such experienced campaigners at this point in his development. It was left to the Gigginstown pair of Outlander and Road To Respect to fight out the finish, with Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old bouncing back to form for the win. The Lexus Chase at Christmas will be a target for both, and a chance for Our Duke to bounce back to form.

Cue an Aintree Tizzard Treble

The Randox Health Grand National Festival kicks-off today, with Cue Card’s appearance in the Betway Bowl the undoubted highlight.

Cheltenham had promised so much for trainer Colin Tizzard. Indeed at Christmas, the Dorset handler had the top three in the betting for the Gold Cup, and many were talking of a ‘blue riband’ clean sweep. Injury to Thistlecrack was a major blow, and when the big day arrived, Cue Card came down at the third last, whilst Native River, though putting up a brave performance, could only manage a third-place finish behind Sizing John.

Tizzard’s team suffered another pre-Cheltenham blow, when leading Neptune Novices’ Hurdle contender Finian’s Oscar, was ruled out due to a minor setback. And further frustration was forthcoming, when the fast finishing Fox Norton came within a whisker of capturing the Grade 1 Champion Chase.

Last year’s successful Aintree assault was led by Cue Card, with Thistlecrack and Native River adding further gloss to a wonderful few days. Tizzard will be hoping for more of the same, though the protagonists differ slightly.

His stable star is favourite for today’s Betway Bowl Chase, having romped to success 12 months ago. Empire Of Dirt may prove to be his toughest challenger, though Cue Card at his best, or anywhere near, would surely win this with the minimum of fuss. And I expect him to do so.

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Part two of a potential Aintree treble is the Champion Chase runner-up Fox Norton. He runs in the Melling Chase on Friday, and is currently the market leader. This step-up in trip should surely suit the gutsy young chaser, who finished with such a rattle at Cheltenham.

He faces tough opposition, especially in the form of Tom George’s nine-year-old God’s Own, who landed this event 12 months back. He was half a dozen lengths behind Fox Norton at Prestbury Park, but arguably has stronger form at Aintree. He’ll also enjoy the trip, and a sound surface, though I can’t see him reversing the Champion Chase placings.

Sub Lieutenant will look to build on an outstanding campaign, and could prove a sterner test for the favourite. Runner-up to Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair last time, he filled the same spot behind Sizing John in the Kinloch Brae in January, and ran a cracker when third to Djakadam in the John Durkan back in December. Those performances are outstanding, and I’d expect him to be ridden aggressively by Bryan Cooper, and prove hard to pass.

This looks a hugely competitive renewal, with Uxizandre looking to bounce back from a disappointing Cheltenham, and Kerry Lee’s pair of Top Gamble and Kylemore Lough both capable of going close. But it’s Fox Norton for the Tizzard’s that looks to possess the class to come out on top in a battle-royal with Sub Lieutenant.

A win there for Tizzard and owners Ann and Alan Potts, will raise hopes of a famous double for connections, when Finian’s Oscar goes for the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle on Saturday. No doubt gutted to have missed Cheltenham, the team have a potential star in this undefeated novice hurdler. He’s been impressive in his three starts under rules, especially when a comfortable winner of the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle earlier in the season. This better ground should suit the son of Oscar, as should the two-and-a-half-mile trip.

Messire Des Obeaux brings strong form to the table, having finished third in the Neptune behind Willoughby Court and Neon Wolf. Alan King’s five-year-old carries the familiar silks of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, and is without doubt a classy sort. But I’d be surprised if Finian’s Oscar were turned over, though this is certainly his toughest test to date.

A ‘Tizzard Treble’ at the home of the Grand National would be no less than the handler deserves, after such a sparkling campaign. The Cotswolds in March may have proved a little disappointing, but Merseyside in April could once again prove a whole lot more satisfying.

Cue a Glorious Finale

Could Thursday at Aintree be the last time we see the wonderful Cue Card on a racecourse?

Though nothing has been said publicly, the 11-year-old’s trainer Colin Tizzard, and proud owner Jean Bishop, must be mulling over the option of retiring the wonderful chaser. And should he repeat last year’s success in the Betway Bowl, it would prove a perfect way to bring the curtain down on a dazzling career.

Cue Card launched his long and illustrious career with victory in a Fontwell bumper back in January 2010. The four-year-old had ‘quickened clear’ to win ‘readily’, in the style of a talented young horse. A few weeks later, Tizzard and his team were celebrating a Cheltenham Festival success, as the youngster ‘romped clear’ to win the Champion Bumper at odds of 40/1. It was a stunning victory.

A year later he returned to Cheltenham, and was far from disgraced when fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. In a stellar renewal, the race went to Al Ferof, with Spirit Son second and a young Sprinter Sacre in third. A month later, he then chased home the talented Spirit Son at Aintree in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, with Rock On Ruby eight lengths back in third.

A decision was then made to send him over fences, and he opened his account with a comfortable win at Chepstow in October 2011, beating Silviniaco Conti in the process. Tizzard had to decide whether to campaign Cue Card at the minimum trip, or target the RSA the following March. A defeat to Bobs Worth at Newbury, when appearing to be out-stayed, and getting tagged on the line, sealed the deal. A young Cue Card was not short of gears, and the Arkle Chase looked the right fit at this stage of his development.

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Unfortunately for Team Tizzard, a certain Sprinter Sacre was lying in wait, and when the pair met in March there could be only one winner. Cue Card ran a cracker in defeat, just seven lengths off the winner, and miles clear of the remainder.

The following season started with a romp in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, before a failed first attempt at three miles in the King George. He took the Grade 1 Ascot Chase en-route to Cheltenham, and understandably dodged a clash with Sprinter, instead taking in the Ryanair Chase. It proved the right decision, as he ran-out an impressive winner at his fourth festival.

His next outing, though ending in defeat, was arguably one of his best. He again locked horns with the greatest chaser of his generation, as the pair clashed in Aintree’s Melling Chase. Many remember the race for the way Henderson’s fella performed, but Cue Card was awesome that day. He finished just four lengths adrift of one of chasing’s all-time greats, with the rest of the field out of sight.

A stunning victory in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase later that year, saw him arrive for the King George of 2013 as joint-favourite. A certain winner two fences from home, became a three-length defeat at the line, with Cue Card appearing to run-out of gas. Injury prevented him from attempting to retain his Ryanair crown, and when he returned to action, his 2014-15 campaign proved disappointing.

A wind-op prior to his return in late-2015 turned his career around, and the nine-year-old Cue Card became unstoppable. With the Charlie Hall and Betfair Chase in the bag, he headed to the King George, and a shot at redemption. In a thrilling renewal, he mugged Vautour in the shadow of the post for a sensational victory. He may have added a Gold Cup to the CV but for a fall three-out, though Don Cossack was a terrific winner. He then hammered a strong field in last year’s Bowl, before a tired looking finale at Punchestown.

This season has again proved profitable, thanks to Grade 1 victories at Haydock and Ascot. He was runner-up to his talented stablemate Thistlecrack in the King George, and again came down at the third-last in the Gold Cup.
He retains tons of ability, and is the short-priced favourite for Thursday’s showpiece. But with £1,340,230 in the bank, it’s possible that we may be witnessing the final chapter in Cue Card’s incredible National Hunt story. A victory this week at Aintree would without doubt, be one of the season’s highlights. Loved by all, it would surely prove a fitting finale to the career of a jumping legend.

Monday Musings: Being AP

AP McCoy aboard his 4000th winner, Mountain Tunes

AP McCoy aboard his 4000th winner, Mountain Tunes

Funnily enough, I never really fancied seeing “Being AP”, the documentary film about the period leading up to the 2015 retirement of Sir Anthony McCoy, which had its limited cinema opening and DVD release later that year, but was screened late last night on BBC2, writes Tony Stafford.

It was rather inconveniently placed if you were caught up with the competing snooker final on Eurosport which ended halfway through the McCoy film, but I compromised and saw the bulk of what proved compelling watching.

We knew for many years all about the almost manic drive which characterised 20 consecutive jump jockey championships, but saw here first-hand his total unwillingness to allow such trifles as injury to prevent it happening for the final time.

The domestic trappings of success and his high-level income as J P McManus’ retained jockey were evident as he forced himself through the various periods of rehabilitation onto yet another 200-plus seasonal tally.

This was the season (2014-15) of his fastest ever first 50 winners, designed, as he graphically says: “to sicken everyone else” and make them see the inevitability of the eventual outcome.

But McCoy admits to a glass half-empty mentality. Dave Roberts, his equally-driven agent, who slipped out of the shadows for a rare public appearance throughout the piece, tells him that it will be impossible for anyone to match his 4,000 winners.

“To get 2,000”, says Roberts, “Someone will need to get 100 winners for 20 years.” McCoy has doubled that, yet his slant on that is “yes, I have had more winners than anyone else, but more losers and more falls.” Always, for Sir Anthony, it has been a case of fearing not becoming champion. In this final season, the early dominance led to hopes of a first-ever 300-winner campaign, but when injury ruled that out, the eventual decision was to announce imminent retirement on reaching 200, as he did on Mr Mole on February 7 2015 at Newbury.

Roberts was on hand to escort him back to the paddock, presumably to make sure he would stick by the planned announcement, and sure enough, as Rishi Persad moved in, microphone pushed into the rider’s face for the first interview, remarking on “yet another 200”, AP said: “That’s the last one, I’m retiring at the end of the season”.

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For once the press corps was stunned. It was a big enough event – Betfair Hurdle Day – for the bulk of the media to be on hand, and the news was self-perpetuating, with wife Chanelle later fielding umpteen messages from friends as the couple drove home.

Clearly, Lady McCoy has had a serious challenge to compete with her husband’s riding and admitted selfishness – you have to be selfish as a sportsman, he maintains - but she has come through as an equally strong character.

Many of the nicest images are the way in which she supported him as he rode in races. “Come on Honey” was the usual exhortation from the missus as she watched races like the last Grand National on fourth-placed Shutthefrontdoor. On the day he received his 20th championship title at Sandown, she had both their children with her. In the midst of great emotion all around, the lasting image for me was her ginger-haired infant son Archie oblivious to it all in his mother’s arms, nonchalantly munching endless soft sweets.

Naturally JP McManus and Jonjo O’Neill were equal participants in this unique story and I expect they both approved of the outcome of what could have ended up an embarrassing sequence of wins and self-satisfaction. Sir Anthony McCoy’s character meant that could never be the case, and indeed the fact he was so worried about what retirement would mean for him also proves he does have some human frailties.

There were plenty of JP stars around over the weekend, with Yanworth not exactly stressing his almost-favourite status for the Champion Hurdle with a narrow win in Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle, but eight years ago Punjabi failed to win that race before beating Celestial Halo and McCoy on Binocular at Cheltenham.

Maybe more worrying for the owner was Jezki’s odds-on defeat by Tombstone at Gowran Park, the latter horse overturning previous form between the pair. Still, Forthefonofit, Dream Berry and Sutton Place, the last-named in a Grade 2 at Navan, kept the green and yellow colours to the fore. Maybe Jezki should try the three miles of the Sun Bets Stayers’ (ex-World) Hurdle, worth a highly acceptable £170,000 to the winner this year.

At nine, Jezki still retains most of his ability, but until Saturday, Zarkandar, another probable for the Stayers’ race, was looking an habitual non-winner, having gone almost four years since his last triumph in the UK. Paul Nicholls’ 10-year-old did win a French Grade 1, easily beating the talented if enigmatic Gemix at Auteuil more than two years ago, but his Haydock win on Saturday offers hope for one more big Festival effort. Winner of the 2011 Triumph Hurdle, Zarkandar appeared at the fixture for the next four years but was absent in 2016.

It must be hard for a smaller trainer to eschew running a decent horse at Cheltenham, but Tom Symonds, 32 today, who escorted Punjabi back to the winner’s enclosure in 2009 when joint assistant trainer at Nicky Henderson’s with Ben Pauling, will not be sending Don Bersy there.

The French-bred, another notable find for Claude Charlet and his France-based ally Joffret Huet, made it three wins in a row for Tom when collecting the Victor Ludorum at Haydock, giving 8lb to the runner-up.

“We didn’t enter him for the Triuimph, and he won’t go to the Fred Winter. We might look at Liverpool,” said Symonds, as ever under the radar. This observer hopes he will break into the next level and owners Sir Peter and Lady Gibbins, who also own the smart pair Hollywoodien and Kaki de la Pree, can help him with that ambition.

On a weekend of some successful and some less-so old-timers, the best performance by far was Cue Card’s 16th win in 35 career starts in the £85,000 to the winner Betfair Ascot Chase. The 2010 Cheltenham Bumper winner and Ryanair Chase victor four years later, it’s hard to see why he shouldn’t go close in a race he might have won a year ago bar a late fall. I trust Michael O’Leary is not too fussed that after his Kempton King George defeat by Thistlecrack, handicapper Phil Smith chose to drop Cue Card  from 176 to 170 before Saturday’s tour de force!

Cheltenham Festival Pointers – King’s Theatre

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the underlying trends that give us hope of finding a few winners at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

My analysis will be less stats driven, (that’s Matt’s speciality) but rather more observational. I’ve been heading to the Cotswolds in March for many years now, and hopefully can put some of that experience to good use, in at least guiding punters in the right direction, if not necessarily singling out individual winners.

Today’s piece will focus on the incredible impact of King’s Theatre progeny on Jump racing’s greatest festival.
Classy, if not top-class on the Flat, he was retired to stud in 1997, standing at Ballylinch in County Kilkenny. He was the Champion National Hunt Sire on a couple of occasions, and forever among the leading half dozen. Sadly, he died in June 2011 at the age of 20, but his influence on jump racing goes on. In recent years, the number of Cheltenham Festival winners that he has produced is quite incredible.

An important factor in the King’s Theatre success story is undoubtedly the drying conditions during the spring festivals. Though the offspring are generally adaptable towards ground conditions, they do tend to prefer a sounder surface. Prestbury Park in March is often ideal.

Cue Card was once a perfect example of the typical King’s Theatre progeny, though in recent years he has developed into a racehorse capable of performing to the highest level in all ground conditions. Nevertheless, in his younger days, a sounder surface was thought ideal, and when he romped home in the Ryanair Chase of 2013, it was his speed that set him apart from runner-up First Lieutenant. He’ll be back for another crack in March, possibly looking to add another Ryanair success to his impressive CV.

Phillip Hobbs has trained several that have brought Cheltenham Festival success the way of the outstanding jumps sire. Back in 2010, Menorah caused something of an upset in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle when getting the better of Get Me Out Of Here and Dunguib. Captain Chris was another Hobbs inmate that landed a Grade 1 at the showpiece event, when taking the Arkle Chase in 2011. When he returned 12 months later, he could only manage fourth in the Ryanair behind yet another from the prolific sire, in the Nicky Henderson trained Riverside Theatre.

The New One has become something of a National Hunt hero, and he’ll be back at Cheltenham in March, though a target has yet to be confirmed. Yet another from the phenomenal King’s Theatre production line, he has been unsuccessful in his attempts at lifting the Champion Hurdle, yet we must not forget that he did claim a Cheltenham Festival victory when romping home in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle back in 2013, defeating Rule The World and Ponte Alexandre in the process.

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AP McCoy gave a riding masterclass, when winning the William Hill Trophy aboard Wichita Lineman at The Festival in 2009. The horse was far from orthodox over a fence, but the Champion Jockey cajoled, bullied and up the famous hill, threw everything at Jonjo’s fella to get him home by a neck in a truly thrilling three-mile chase. Yet it’s easy to forget just how good a hurdler Wichita was, as that was his second Cheltenham Festival win, having captured the Albert Bartlett, (then the Brit Insurance} by a country-mile in 2007.

Another King’s Theatre hurdler that took the Albert Bartlett by storm, was the ill-fated Brindisi Breeze. Tragically killed when escaping from his paddock just months later, he had looked a future star having defeated the well-touted Boston Bob at The Festival in 2012.

Others from the prodigious bloodline to strike at Jump racing’s greatest meeting include; Fingal Bay, Balthazar King, Diamond King and the classy mare Glens Melody. And there’s numerous others that have come frustratingly close in recent years. Southfield Theatre got within a nose in the Pertemps Network Final. Voler La Vedette was unfortunate to run into the mighty Quevega in 2010, then lost out to the almighty Big Bucks two years later.

If those were luckless in not appearing on the Cheltenham Festival roll of honour, then spare a thought for the Willie Mullins trained Shaneshill. Currently a three-time runner-up on the main-stage, could he make it fourth time lucky in March. Chances are that he will be running in the World Hurdle. Like so many by King’s Theatre, he appears at his best when the ground dries out, and undoubtedly raises his game at the ‘home of jump racing’.

And there’s other fancied types that will be hoping to add to the prolific King’s Theatre Festival record.

It’s hard to imagine Shaneshill not going close once again, but what of stable companion Bellshill? Another owned by festival regular Graham Wylie, he has failed to spark on his previous two ventures to the track, but a step-up in trip may well help to put the record straight. He’s made a seamless transition to fences, and looks set to contest either the JLT or the RSA in March. The latter appears most likely, and his pair of victories thus far over the winter, suggest that he’s one of Ireland’s leading novice chasers.

I mentioned earlier in the piece that Diamond King was already a Cheltenham Festival winner. He took the Coral Cup last year, and has one victory from his three starts over fences. Highly tried in his last two, he looks just short of top-class, though was running a huge race in the Drinmore Novice Chase, before getting in close at the last and losing all momentum. He’s now on a handicap mark that could make him competitive in the Festival Plate over 2m5f. He’s currently best-priced 25/1 for the race. Better ground is vital for this fella, and he will be an interesting each-way proposition wherever he turns up.

In my review of Warwick on Monday, I commented on the performance of Peregrine Run, in conditions he would have hated. He’s undoubtedly a King’s Theatre progeny that requires a sounder surface. I’m of the opinion that this year’s Neptune lacks depth, and I maintain that Peter Fahey’s fella is a live each-way proposition. I’ll certainly be throwing a little ‘Keeling-Cash’ at him.

Born Survivor, William Henry and Royal Vacation will also be of interest, when a battalion of King’s Theatre offspring gather for the four-day extravaganza. Last year, of the 21 horses representing the stallion, a third finished top four in their respective races, though only Diamond King struck gold. In a few weeks, selecting the winners from the also-rans will once again become an all-consuming task.

Thistlecrack Crowned King Of Kempton

The star of tomorrow became the King for a day, as Thistlecrack stormed to a hugely impressive victory in the King George at Kempton.

It proved to be a dominant display from Colin Tizzard’s young chaser, despite concerns that the sharp track would prove less than ideal. In truth, the result never looked in doubt. Tom Scudamore sent Thistlecrack to the front from the off, and though he had company for the first circuit, he appeared capable of stretching clear whenever asked to do so. His jumping was assured throughout, and despite the step-up in class, he tanked along in his now customary superlative fashion.

Paddy Brennan moved Cue Card alongside his stablemate, in an attempt to apply some sort of pressure. But as the pair approached the home turn for the final time it was Thistlecrack that stepped on the gas and stretched clear. No more than nudged out by Scudamore, he was allowed to run down the last two fences, and still finished more than three lengths clear at the line. Cue Card held on to second spot in a blanket finish for minor honours.

Scudamore was clearly chuffed to bits with the stunning success, saying: “For the first time in my life I'm pretty speechless. It's wonderful - I thought he'd win, but I never imagined he'd do it as easy as that. He's a phenomenal racehorse, he's a pleasure to ride and a great credit to everyone. To win a King George on his fourth run over fences, it just shows the hard work everyone back at the yard has done and I'm so thrilled to be part of it.”

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The decision to run Thistlecrack had surprised many, myself included. But Colin Tizzard had never doubted the exceptional talent, and spoke of the reasoning and of the pleasure in a plan coming to fruition, when saying: “He's not a five or six-year-old, he is eight and he'll be nine in a few days' time. He's at the peak of his powers and he's just proved we all got it right.”

The trainer went on: “It's quite frightening to watch, isn't it? We've all seen Thistlecrack for the last few years, he's had his biggest test and he's a brilliant horse. Tom was being a bit careful at the second-last and he shortened up almost like a show-jumper - he never touched a twig. He's got everything you'd want in a racehorse. Cue Card could have cried enough at the last, but he stuck his head out and finished second, so it's brilliant.”

Paddy Brennan was philosophical in defeat, when he said: “You want to win, but some things are impossible and trying to beat that racehorse today was one of the most impossible things I've ever tried to do. You can make all the excuses in the world, but it's a long time since I've ridden against a horse like that. Cue Card was really brave today and I'm proud of him. The ground was lively enough for him at times.”

Looking ahead to Cheltenham, he added: “It would be nice, but I'm very realistic and we'd need a lot of things to go right on the day. But on a bit softer ground, I won't give up hope.”

Unfortunately for Cue Card and the rest, ground conditions appear to have little effect on this sensational racehorse. And the way he trounced the opposition in last year’s World Hurdle suggests he’ll actually be better suited by Cheltenham. A practice spin in the Cotswold Chase at the end of January now appears likely. King for a day at Kempton, chances are that Thistlecrack will reign for some time to come.

Slick and Quick – A Huge Test For Thistlecrack

Can Thistlecrack really put-it-up to Cue Card in the King George today?

This is a monumental task for a novice chaser, as talented as he clearly is. In three chase outings to date, he has defeated 137 rated Aqalim, 136 rated Bigbadjohn and 140 rated Marinero. Today he tackles a pair in the 150s, one in the 160s and Cue Card, currently rated 176, at a track that puts an emphasis on jumping accurately at speed.

A surprising and somewhat disappointingly small field will give hope that Thistlecrack can settle into a comfortable rhythm, though chances are that Silviniaco Conti and the rejuvenated Josses Hill will be at the head of affairs, making this a true test. As the pair apply pressure from the front, Tizzard’s novice chaser will need to be foot perfect to keep tabs. And just when he looks to be mounting a challenge, Cue Card will move through the gears to put his jumping under maximum pressure.

His last effort at Newbury was visually impressive, and will have given connections the confidence to take the plunge. His jumping was slick, as he powered along at the head of a small field. Five-year-old chasing debutant Ibis Du Rheu, attempted to go with him, and ultimately paid the price. He has a tendency to shift slightly to his right at his fences, which will be in his favour at Kempton. And that high cruising speed will prove a valid weapon in a race that will inevitably test both speed and stamina.

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That high cruising speed is the component in his armoury that will come under severe scrutiny. Has he enough speed to lay-up with horses that are quicker than those he has competed against for several years?

His last defeat came as a novice hurdler back in April 2015. He was outpaced that day by Killultagh Vic and Shaneshill, before staying on powerfully to go down by less than a length. His last eight victories have all come at three miles, in races that tested his stamina rather than his speed. He did win at Aintree during that period, a flat sharpish track. Though that win came on soft ground, where he undoubtedly outstayed Shaneshill.

Today he faces Josses Hill; a horse that came second in a Supreme and third in an Arkle. Silviniaco Conti, though not the force of old, won the Grade 1 Ascot Chase at 2m5f last February by 20 lengths. And then there’s stablemate Cue Card; Supreme Novices’ fourth, Arkle runner-up to Sprinter Sacre, runaway winner of the Ryanair Chase and current King George supremo. Though a small field opposes Thistlecrack today, there will be no hiding place. Pace is guaranteed.

Despite all that, it would come as no surprise to see him ‘loom large’ turning for home. He is hugely talented, and a potential superstar of the sport. Had this been at Cheltenham, a largely galloping track, with a stiff uphill finish, then I would probably be siding with him over his illustrious team-mate. But not today. Not at Kempton.
Thistlecrack and Cue Card are jump racing goliaths, and their clash should make for a fabulous spectacle. However, one is a hero of today, the other a star of tomorrow.