paddy brennan’s reaction said it all as he waved at the crowd and punched the air with delight after Cue Card rolled back the years to win the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase – Wetherby’s premier race of the year.
He briefly contemplated a Frankie Dettori-style flying dismount before deciding against it.
One of the most popular winners in the race’s history, it had been eight years since Brennan had won the race on Ollie Magern and he was intent on celebrating a quite brilliant training performance by Colin Tizzard, who has saved the horse’s career.
“As you get older, it gets harder,” an elated Brennan told The Yorkshire Post. “I’ve had a lean couple of years, certainly in big races, and you need days like this. Ollie Magern was special, but this feels better. I don’t like comparing horses – nothing will beat my 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander – but this is a proud day for me. He jumped, he travelled, he settled. Good horses like this don’t come along often.”
This was the horse’s first win since the 2013 Betfair Chase at Haydock and Tizzard signalled that his stable star is likely to return to Merseyside on November 21 for this year’s renewal.
Now nine, Cue Card has been competing against the best since winning the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in 2010 and he benefited from a racecourse gallop. However, the biggest difference has been treatment for a breathing problem.
“He had a trapped oesophagus last season and it was literally blocking his whole air pipe. I don’t know how he was managing to trot, never mind gallop,” said Tizzard, a Dorset farmer.
“It was a bit like suffocation, it was frightening. To win these races, you’ve got to be at your best and we brought him a month early to get him ready. I do put pressure on myself – horses like him don’t come along very often and there’s an expectation with Cue Card after his Bumper win and Ryanair Chase win in 2013.
“He ran right to the line, Dynaste came to him at the last, but he ran on again. It’s just great to see him back to his best. We’d had two or three horses blow up first time out, which was the reason I gave him a two-mile gallop around Wincanton. It probably stood him in good stead.”
For much of the first two-and-a-half miles, Cue Card set the pace with Holywell and Sam Winner – defending champion Menorah hated the ground, and was pulled up, while Grand National winner Many Clouds did not appear to have the fitness for this Grade Two contest, and will not now defend his Hennessy title at the end of the month.
Turning for home, Brennan took Cue Card into a commanding lead which left the David Pipe-trained pair of Dynaste and Ballynagour, the eventual second and third, with too much ground to make up.
The one disappointment, given the quality of this seven-runner field and supporting contests, is that Channel Four Racing once again chose to base its presenting team at Ascot’s inferior meeting.
The rest of the meeting was dominated by Noel Fehily, whose treble aboard novice hurdler Charmix, the mare Blue Buttons and exciting novice chaser Southfield Royale took his career tally to the 998-winner mark.
His one disappointment was former Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby failing to see out the three-mile trip in the bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle and finishing a remote second to the Richard Johnson-ridden Kilcooley – Fehily attributed this to the soft ground which suited the winner.
Take nothing away, however, from Tizzard, Brennan and owners Jean and Bob Bishop. They won Friday’s first race with Royal Vacation and, appropriately, Saturday’s finale with Billy No Name an hour after their ace Cue Card had come up trumps.