Super send-off: Sandown pledges to mark Cue Card's retirement run in style
Sandown has vowed to give people's favourite Cue Card the fitting farewell he deserves after owner Jean Bishop announced jumping's most popular elder statesman will have his "retirement race" on the season's final day.
The nine-time Grade 1-winning 12-year-old will line up in the bet365 Oaksey Chase, a Grade 2 prize that will this year be staged for the Menorah Challenge Trophy, in honour of the horse who won the first running of the race in 2014 and all three staged thereafter.
Menorah bowed out in style when landing last season's running of the £50,000 contest and Bishop hopes Cue Card can do the same on April 28 after a glorious career in which he has stamped his name on three Betfair Chases, two Betfair Ascot Chases, the King George VI Chase, Ryanair Chase, Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Betfred Bowl.
The decision to bring down the curtain on Cue Card's career at Sandown was music to the ears of the track's clerk of the course Andrew Cooper.
"From everyone's perspective this is tremendous news," he said. "We can already sense the extra interest in the afternoon that Cue Card is generating. As we move closer to the big day his involvement can only further boost that interest and also ticket sales.
"Whenever there has been a story linked to the day – such as AP McCoy's retirement, Richard Johnson's first championship, the Paul Nicholls-Willie Mullins title battle and Sprinter Sacre – ticket sales have increased.
Cooper added: "The funny thing is Cue Card has never run at Sandown, although I'm pretty sure he's paraded here on the final day of the season.
"We'll make sure we organise something appropriate, although being mindful of the fact he will be coming to race, not just for us to say goodbye. You can be sure we'll give him a good send-off."
Although pulled up in the Ryanair Chase by Paddy Brennan when last seen at the Cheltenham Festival –– where he nevertheless received huge applause from his fans – the veteran had previously run to a top-notch Racing Post Rating of 170 when second to rising star Waiting Patiently.
Bishop and Tizzard spoke on Sunday at Ascot, where Tizzard remarked: "All I'll say is we said we were going to run him until the end of the season and nothing has changed."
The 'end of the season' reference was seemingly a clue, as Bishop on Monday morning confirmed she, Tizzard and regular rider Brennan have agreed Cue Card will sign off at Sandown.
"I'm calling it his retirement race not his final race because I prefer using the word retirement," said Bishop.
"There will be no going back. We aren't going to change our minds after Sandown. You can go to the well too often. After Sandown he will head for a hopefully long and happy retirement, although we haven't yet confirmed plans for that.
"I spoke about this with Colin on Sunday and I know Paddy feels the Sandown race is the right one. I would also rather he runs at Sandown this time rather than Aintree.
"There probably won't be many runners and whether he wins or not, Paddy thinks it will be a nice send-off for him. There'll be a big crowd and all the racegoers will have the chance to show their appreciation for what he's done and wish him well for his retirement."
Bishop, who is looking forward to the publication of the Racing Post's Cue Card tribute book shortly after the public favourite's retirement race, added: "Colin did say he had a bit of a dirty nose after Cheltenham, although I don't know if that had anything to do with what happened there.
"He's 12 years old now, and although he won a lot of his races easily he still had those races. Like people, horses can't go on forever. I'll be pleased for him at Sandown, but I also know it won't feel the same without always being able to look forward to seeing him race.
"He's done us proud, though, and he deserves to get a great reception from everyone at Sandown and he then deserves to have a long and happy retirement."
Read stable tours from top trainers as they share insight for the Flat season – exclusive to readers of the daily newspaper and subscribers to Members' Club Ultimate. Join here