COLIN TIZZARD will feel a range of emotions when Cue Card, the horse that made him, takes his leave of racing today.
Relief that the 12-year-old, who will be parading at Sandown’s season-ending meeting, is retiring in sound health to enjoy a deserved retirement.
Sadness that Cue Card is not lining up for one last hurrah in the Oaksey Chase after time was called on the veteran’s career.
Pride in a horse who won 16 out of 41 career starts – including nine at the elite Grade One level – and nearly £1.5m in prize money.
And though there will always be regret that Cue Card did not win the Cheltenham Gold Cup – the horse fell at the third last fence in both 2016 and 2017 – Tizzard did win the blue riband race last month with the mud-loving Native River.
Yet Tizzard, a dairy farmer when Cue Card first arrived at his Dorset stables nearly a decade ago, knows he would not have become established as a top National Hunt trainer without this special horse whose longevity endeared him to racegoers and the wider public.
A lifetime of memories include an imposing win in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase in 2015; a slightly underwhelming third place finish in the same race 12 months later before silencing the doubters in Haydock’s Betfair Chase before a heartstopping fall in last November’s renewal at the West Yorkshire track.
They are three runs that illustrate the roller-coaster that Tizzard, and Cue Card’s diminutive owner Jean Bishop, endured as they masterminded the career of a horse who became public property.
“He’s kept going and that’s what people love about him,” said a reflective Tizzard. “He’s not here for one season and then gone, he has been strutting his stuff for eight seasons. “After his first year he had the most prominent box. He’s been our mainstay, he is the one that has been making the pace all the time.
“We’ve got some good horses now, but we wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for him. Cue Card has given us confidence that we can train the good ones and he has given our owners the confidence to buy horses for us because of what he has done.
“To stick in training for as many years as he has is amazing. He’s had little injuries on the go, but he has always come back from them.”
Cue Card was a 40-1 shot when he came to prominence by winning the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in 2010, the year Sir AP McCoy finally won the Grand National on Don’t Push It, and Tizzard points to that first Grade One triumph as the highlights of a career that also encompassed three Betfair Chase victories, two Ascot Chases, Kempton’s King George and a Betfred Bowl at Aintree.
“It was a massive day. When he came down the hill in the Champion Bumper it shook me. We have had lots and lots of great days, but my favourite moment was the Champion Bumper,” he said.
“I remember it now, the back of my neck went rigid hard. It was the Champion Bumper and he was just a four-year-old. He wasn’t very big compared to the six-year-olds. He’s a champion in every way, he’s won nine Grade Ones, he’s been brilliant.”
Many of Cue Card’s victories came in the hands of trainer’s son Joe before he hung up his riding saddle to assist his father.
“He’s a lovely horse. Ever since we have been here he has been in that same stable and he is the first head you see when you drive down to the yard,” said the former jockey. “He deserves a big send off. He has become ‘The People’s Horse’, they really love him. He deserves it, the horse will enjoy it and the people will enjoy seeing him one last time.”
On a day when champions are celebrated, Richard Johnson – who rode Tizzard’s Native River to Gold Cup glory – will become leading rider for the third successive season after being pushed all the way by North Yorkshire-based Brian Hughes.
The finest hour of Hughes came when Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently won an emotional Ascot Chase in February after a terrific tussle with a revitalised Cue Card – the race came a day after the Malton trainer’s father Malcolm had been laid to rest.
Confirmation of Waiting Patiently’s potential if the still unbeaten steeplechaser stays sound, it was also reaffirmation of the class of Cue Card and why he is so deserving of a special send-off.