The race regarded as an autumn Gold Cup resulted in the utter rout of the past winners of the Festival blue riband at Haydock on Saturday as Cue Card set the seal on his emergence at the top of the British staying division with an emphatic display of front-running jumping to win the Grade One Betfair Chase.
Last season’s Ryanair Chase winner was made a best-priced 3-1 favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and is as short as 5-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Cue Card dispelled any stamina doubts in beating Dynaste by four and a half lengths, with Silviniaco Conti a further length and a quarter away third, and a succession of ragged gaps back to the past Gold Cup and King George winner Long Run, the veteran Tidal Bay and last season’s Gold Cup victor Bobs Worth.
After winning an early tussle for the lead with the sole Irish runner Roi Du Mee, Joe Tizzard was able to dictate matters on the 9-1 shot, but did not slack in doing so, putting up a time more than 10 seconds faster than the handicap chase 35 minutes later over the same distance, a fiercely run affair won by the 132-rated Sydney Paget, who was carrying 8lb less. Another measure of Cue Card is the four and a half lengths he finished behind the prodigy Sprinter Sacre at Aintree last spring – nearer than any other rival has managed in the unbeaten chaser’s 10 contests over fences.
Cue Card’s trainer, Colin Tizzard, said: “There’s plenty of water to go under the bridge before March. I assume he’ll go to the King George next and then I’m sure he’ll end up at Cheltenham in one of the races. It’s everybody’s dream to have a horse good enough to run in the Gold Cup and I’m sure unless we get beat by stayers next time that will be on his compass.”
Front-running has been the making of Cue Card, who disappointed when held up in last season’s King George VI Chase, forfeiting ground through early mistakes then, while he clearly requires more of a stamina test as he matures. Whether he can sustain the gallop over an extra furlong and a half in a contest as brutal as the Gold Cup itself remains an open question, but his affinity for the Cheltenham Festival, where he has won twice, will stand him in good stead.
All Nicky Henderson could cling to was the hope that a more gruelling contest might revive Bobs Worth after an abject display, at a track where it has proved no problem for other Gold Cup winners such as Kauto Star and Imperial Commander to produce their form. “The two-and-a-half-milers have come to the fore. They just took him out of his comfort zone on soft ground first time out,” the trainer said. “We’ll have to look at the Lexus [at Leopardstown, on December]. It’s a long time until March.”
Henderson appears to have conceded Long Run’s days as a championship contender may be done after a second heavy defeat this season, suggesting the Aintree route. “I imagine he’ll have an entry in the Grand National and after the way he jumped today I wouldn’t put [the owners] off.” Long Run’s rider, Sam Waley-Cohen, may require all his prowess over the Aintree fences for that venture.