COLIN Tizzard labelled Cue Card the “horse of a lifetime” as he gets ready to bid for a £1m bonus in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
After winning the Betfair Chase and William Hill King George VI Chase already this season, Tizzard’s star has the first two legs of jump racing’s Jockey Club-backed ‘Triple Crown’ already in the bag.
A horse who won the Champion Bumper as a four-year-old, Cue Card is now 10 and are arguably in the form of his life after bouncing back from a breathing operation that threatened to bring the horse’s career to a premature end.
“This year has been the making of him. The last two years we’ve not got to Cheltenham with him and last year about three weeks before Cheltenham he could not get up the gallop as his epiglottis had gone,” said the Dorset trainer.
“We took him away and put a camera on his head and within five strides his epiglottis was coming up, it was like having a golf ball up in his throat.
“In desperation last year we put a tongue tie on him, but this year he has come back looking a million dollars and from the first time we ran him he’s just been very good. He’s been good all year and is brilliant still – he now looks like a staying chaser.”
The first signs that Cue Card was back near his best came at Wetherby last October when he won the prestigious Charlie Hall Chase in scintillating style under Paddy Brennan.
It was the most heartwarming of wins. Yet Tizzard’s champion proved that it was no fluke by winning the Betfair Chase before collaring Vautour in the shadow of the Kempton winning post at the end of a dramatic King George in which Brennan’s race-riding totally flustered young Irish jockey Bryan Cooper on Don Cossack who then crashed out at the second last fence.
No Charlie Hall winner has gone on to win the Gold Cup, jump racing’s blue riband race, in the same season, but Tizzard is bullish.
“It took all of the three miles at Kempton to get him there, that’s what Paddy said, it took him three miles to get past Vautour and if it was another half a mile, he’d have won by two or three lengths, if not more,” he disclosed.
“He never shows his best around Kempton. He looked outstanding winning the Bumper as a four-year-old, he ran away with that and the Ryanair Chase and he doesn’t owe us anything and he’s at the peak of his form.
“He’s absolutely brilliant at the moment and is the horse of a lifetime. If I could win the Gold Cup, it would be the pinnacle of training – it would last forever. I think we have got a better chance of winning the Gold Cup than we did approaching the King George. He likes Cheltenham and is brilliant round there. He can come down the hill, have a breather and go again.
“The Gold Cup is the best race – it may not be the biggest, the Grand National is, but for me it is the best.”
Meanwhile Tizzard implied that defeat will be out of the equation when Thistlecrack, the revelation of the 2015-16 national Hunt season, lines up in the Ryanair World Hurdle,
A decent novice without setting the world alight last year, he has been peerless this season at Newbury, Ascot and Cheltenham under Tom Scudamore.
“When he races there doesn’t appear to be any bottom to him, as he just powers away at the end,” said Tizzard. “He just looks better than anything else over three miles, although I keep telling myself that someone will bring back a really good chaser over hurdles to take him on.
“He worked brilliantly this morning. Looking at it I can’t see anything getting near him at the moment.
“I know that’s a bold statement, but on form it looks like they’ve all got to pick up a bit to be near him.
“Cole Harden, the winner last year, appears to have been laid out all season, but he’s not shown that much this season at all. They say he’ll be much better on better ground, though.
“Thistlecrack went to Aintree and Punchestown on good ground last year and Cheltenham won’t have anything other than the soft side of good. The ground will not be a problem.”
CHAMPION jockey-elect Richard Johnson’s pursuit of a first ever double century of winners continues at Warwick today.
He remains on the 199-winner mark after blanks at Doncaster on Wednesday and Huntingdon yesterday.
MIDDLEHAM rider Henry Brooke’s resurgence continue – the successes of Jokers And Rogues, and then Almost Gemini, at Sedgefield took the former champion conditional’s tally of winners to 32 for the season.
The meeting saw promising North Yorkshire apprentice Finian O’Toole record a treble courtesy of Oscar O’Scar, Verko and Roxyfet for Middleham trainer Micky Hammond.