STEEPLECHASING’s changing of the guard continued to gather pace when Cue Card put up a startling performance to land the prestigious Haldon Gold Cup, a race won previously by future champions such as Best Mate, Edredon Bleu and Viking Flagship.
Colin Tizzard’s chaser, a formidable force over hurdles before taking time to come to terms with the larger obstacles last season, is now a leading contender for next month’s three-mile King George VI Chase at Kempton.
This 26-length win, albeit over two miles and a furlong, was just as imposing and eyecatching as that of Silviniaco Conti in last weekend’s bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and shows that there is potentially a new generation of equine stars to fill the void created by the legendary Kauto Star’s retirement.
With rising stars Grands Crus and Hunt Ball heading the weights for Cheltenham’s Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday week, they will have to put up significant performances to confirm their superiority to both Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti on last season’s form.
This was a third victory in the Exeter feature for the trainer’s jockey son Joe who piloted Lake Kariba and Flagship Uberalles, a subsequent Queen Mother Champion Chase hero, to success in this race in 1998 and 1999 respectively.
Second only to Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle at Cheltenham in March, Cue Card barely put a foot wrong as Tizzard junior set out to make the running and had the outsider Webberys Dream for company early on while Menorah jumped stickily in the rear.
Going down the back straight, Tizzard set Cue Card alight and the 5-6 favourite took lengths out of the field with some enormous leaps.
While Edgardo Sol and Menorah closed up turning into the straight, Tizzard had given his mount a breather and he absolutely scooted clear over the final four fences to beat the Ruby Walsh-ridden Edgardo Sol emphatically.
The winning jockey said: “He was pricking his ears all the way up the straight, but gave me the feel I was expecting throughout the race. He’s only a six-year-old, but that’s the best feel he’s ever given me.”
Paddy Power cut Cue Card, a shock winner of the Cheltenham Festival’s Bumper race in 2010, to 8-1 from 16-1 for the King George VI Chase at Kempton and his trainer confirmed the Boxing Day feature was on the agenda.
He said: “The plan will be to go for the King George and you really couldn’t fault the way he did it (yesterday). He used to tank along, but he’s not as fizzy as he was and coming out of the back straight, when Joe squeezed him up, he was gone. He’ll go somewhere before the King George. I haven’t given that a great deal of thought, but it could be the Betfair Chase (at Haydock, November 24).”
Time For Rupert has been given the green light to contest the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on December 1.
Paul Webber’s Cheltenham Gold Cup fifth was well beaten on his comeback in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and will switch to handicap company over fences.
While Webber still harbours big race dreams for his eight-year-old, he feels it could now be the Grand National rather than the Gold Cup that suits him best.
“Denis (O’Regan) said a while ago that he’s the perfect horse for the Grand National and I think he may be right one day,” said the trainer. “He’s certainly a stronger horse this year.”
York, Doncaster, Beverley and Ripon racecourses have all been shortlisted in various categories for the Racecourse Association’s awards. The winners will be announced on November 22. Also nominated is Go Racing in Yorkshire for its work promoting the sport in the county.