To his already numerous proven positive qualities, Cue Card has now added the priceless one – for a chaser aiming for the greatest glory come March, anyway – of stamina.
Throughout his career the seven-year-old has held his own in the best company, including two victories at the Cheltenham Festival, but yesterday at Haydock he reinvented himself as a genuine Gold Cup contender as he put his rivals to the sword in the Betfair Chase over three miles and a furlong.
Cue Card made pretty much all the running in testing, tiring conditions and found a relentless, building tempo under his trainer Colin Tizzard’s son Joe that undid, one by one, seven other high-class horses. The final two to crack were Dynaste, last season’s best staying novice, and Silviniaco Conti, the Haydock winner 12 months earlier. Among those trailing behind were the Gold Cup winners Long Run, who faded to fourth, and the reigning king, the 15-8 favourite Bobs Worth.
The only previous time Cue Card, winner of the two-mile, five furlong Ryanair Chase at the most recent Festival, tried to go as far as three miles was in last year’s King George VI Chase, in which he produced a rare underperformance to finish fifth. He is now generally 5-2 favourite for the Kempton Boxing Day showpiece.
“To win these top races,” said Tizzard Snr, “you’ve not only to be good, but be absolutely right, and he was dead on his job today. He jumped better than I’ve ever seen him jump before and I think now we can say he stays three miles. But there’s a great deal of water to go under the bridge yet this season.”
Both Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti closed on Cue Card two fences out, but he had plenty in reserve, and an exuberant, foot-perfect leap at the last sealed matters. His four-and-a-half-length success brought his tally of Grade One prizes to four.
At Kempton next month Cue Card may again face the three who followed him in yesterday, plus Al Ferof, Silviniaco Conti’s Paul Nicholls stablemate, who easily outclassed his sole rival at Ascot after more than a year off through injury, jumping with fluency and enthusiasm for Daryl Jacob. The Gold Cup market is now wide open, with Bobs Worth, sixth yesterday over a less suitable track than Cheltenham, Sir Des Champs, Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card vying for favouritism.
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