IF THE 2012 Grand National-winning jockey Daryl Jacob had listened to the medical experts, he would not be riding Cue Card in the William Hill King George VI Chase – the centrepiece of the Boxing Day racing programme.
They said he would be on the injury sidelines for 10 months as a result of the multiple leg, knee and elbow fractures sustained when he was catapulted into a crowd enclosure after Port Melon crashed through a running rail on the way to the start at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, he returned to the fray within five months – and with a point to prove – after losing his No 1 status at the yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls to rising star Sam Twiston-Davies, who partners Al Ferof in Friday’s showpiece race at Kempton.
Friends as well as rivals, the two jockeys fought out a thrilling finish to the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday when the guts and determination of Jacob’s mount Reve De Sivola edged out the Nicholls-trained Zarkandar in one of the races of the year.
It was Jacob’s first Grade One victory since his injury torment – he did not sleep the night prior to the race because he was mulling over all the tactical twists and turns – and he heads to Kempton brimming with confidence.
He has every reason to do so after going to hell and back in 2014.
Cue Card’s owner Jean Bishop offered Jacob the chance to ride their horses within days of the rider opting to leave the Nicholls stable rather than playing second fiddle to Twiston-Davies. They were not the only callers. His services were also acquired by leading owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede whose Peace And Co could not have been more impressive at Doncaster 10 days ago and is now a worthy favourite for next year’s JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“My time with Paul Nicholls wasn’t a bad time. It was a good time,” the 31-year-old told The Yorkshire Post. “I didn’t do a bad job. I had three great years. I had a 25 per cent strike rate, helped Paul win a trainers’ championship and then regain it. And I won a National on Neptune Collonges.
“He has always liked Sam, but I didn’t want to play second fiddle to Sam. When I left, I had to rebuild my career – and fitness. It is all credit to the Injured Jockeys Fund’s Oaksey House and my local physio. They got me right.
“A lot of people were doubting myself, but I never did. Cue Card’s trainers Colin and Joe Tizzard have been fantastic. So too the Bishop family, Isaac Souede and Simon Munir. The relationship is fantastic and they all have fantastic horses not just for this year, but also the future. All the time, you are looking forward. You don’t dwell on the past.
“I’ve ridden Reve De Sivola since he was a juvenile. The one thing about that horse is that he doesn’t give up. He has such a massive heart. That was special, but I hope there’s more to come.”
As for Cue Card, the King George will be Jacob’s third race aboard the steeplechaser. Fourth behind the Grade One novice God’s Own in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter over a shorter than ideal trip, the horse failed to defend his Betfair Chase crown at Haydock last month when a weary fourth to Silviniaco Conti.
These were the two horses that fought out last year’s King George when Cue Card, then ridden by Joe Tizzard before he retired to assist his father, appeared to have the three-mile race at his mercy before fading on the run to the last, enabling Silviniaco Conti to pounce under Noel Fehily.
With the crowd-pleasing greys Dynaste and Al Ferof also King George-bound, Jacob says the three-mile chase division is compelling this season.
“If the 10 horses ran 10 times at 10 different tracks, you’d have 10 different results,” he said.
“It is a very exciting division. Who will be best on the day? I can’t wait to ride Cue Card and, hopefully, prove a few people wrong. I genuinely thought he would win the Betfair Chase last month – the Tizzards said they had never had him in better condition.
“However, they say he is even better now.
“They are great trainers, Joe and Colin. If they are confident, I am confident because I believe in them.”
Jacob also has no doubts about the horse, a two-time National Hunt festival winner, staying out the three-mile trip.
“Yes, no doubts in my mind,” he said emphatically. “If Cue Card turns up with his A game, he will be very difficult to beat. When he is on song, he is the best horse in the country.
“All I want for Christmas is a King George trophy, and I’ll be doing my best. The chance to ride a horse as good as Cue Card in one of the biggest races of the year, it makes the injuries and travelling worthwhile.”