top trainer Colin Tizzard reports stable star Cue Card to be “as good as ever” ahead of his Charlie Hall Chase defence at Wetherby this Saturday.
The defending champion heads a stellar 11-horse line-up for the £100,000 contest, the first major event of the 2016-17 National Hunt season.
Other entries include 2014 winner Menorah, Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri and 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup victor Coneygree, though the latter’s participation would require significant rainfall at the West Yorkshire track, which is not forecast at this stage.
However, Dorset-based Tizzard is bullish about the chances of Cue Card, who followed up his Wetherby triumph with Grade One triumphs in the Haydock’s Betfair Chase, Kempton’s King George Chase and Aintree’s Betfair Bowl.
The one blip was a crashing fall at the third-last fence in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as Paddy Brennan’s mount started vying with eventual winner Don Cossack for the lead.
However, Cue Card, now 10, was foot perfect last weekend when ridden on the gallops by the trainer’s son Joe, a former jockey.
“Joe rode him Saturday morning in a piece of work and said he’s different class, possibly the best horse in the yard,” said Tizzard senior.
“He’s very happy with him. We’ve also had a racecourse gallop and couldn’t be more happy with him.
“The last season only finished three or four months ago – there’s no reason to think he’s deteriorated at all.
“Wetherby was the making of him last year. He came to the second last, ears pricked, They came right to him, Paddy asked for a big one and he pulled away from them. I knew then he was back to his best.”
Tizzard sees no reason at this stage to deviate from last season’s schedule when the Betfair Chase and King George followed the Charlie Hall.
The final Charlie Hall field will depend on the ground – the going is good and clerk of the course Jonjo Sanderson started watering the track yesterday to ensure conditions do not become too quick.
A potentially vintage renewal could also include Blaklion, who won Wetherby’s Towton Novices Chase en route to RSA Chase glory at the Cheltenham Festival, as well as the Paul Nicholls pair of Virak and Saphir du Rheu plus David Pipe’s former Ryanair Chase winner Dynaste. Local hopes rest with Sue Smith’s Wakanda.
Meanwhile hopes that the Tizzard-trained Thistlecrack, ante-post favourite for the Gold Cup, would make his chasing debut at Wetherby on Saturday appear to be fading.
Though the World Hurdle winner holds an entry, Thistlecrack – the mount of Tom Scudamore – is due to run at Chepstow today provided the forecast rain arrived at the Welsh track.
“With any novice that’s jumping fences for the first time you just hope they have a clear round and everything goes well, but we can’t say that with horses like him and Cue Card as the expectations are so high,” added Tizzard.