Cue Card seeks repeat victory four years on
Betfair Ascot Chase (Grade 1) | 2m5f, 5yo+ | ITV4/RUK
Cue Card is ready to bridge a four-year gap between appearances at the royal racecourse as he returns in search of another Betfair Ascot Chase victory and a ninth Grade 1 triumph.
Success on his only previous visit to the track in 2013 preceded his Ryanair win at Cheltenham and this year Cue Card's connections hope it will set him up to put the record straight in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in just under four weeks.
Such has been the standard set by Cue Card that his King George second to stablemate Thistlecrack over Christmas is thought to have come despite not being on song.
Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father Colin, said: "I don't think he ran his true race. If he had and run like he did at Haydock the race before he would have beaten Silviniaco Conti better than he did at Kempton. Yes he was the one to put it up to Thistlecrack in the back straight and might have paid for that, but he was sore for a couple of days after.
"He now looks as good as ever and is in cracking form - he schooled well for Paddy [Brennan] on Tuesday.
"He's in as good a form as he has been in his life and age doesn't seem to be catching up with him."
The only change has been Cue Card's approach to races as Tizzard remembers riding him to his 2013 Ascot Chase win.
"He was quite keen back in those days," said Tizzard. "I know people thought he was beaten when Captain Chris came to him two out before nearly crashing out, but he was just starting to pick up and I thought I had the race won.
"He's a lot more settled now and if there is no pace and he ends up making it that wouldn't be a problem. The plan is to be handy but Paddy will ride his race."
Irish Cavalier beat Cue Card as recently as October when winning the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. His trainer Rebecca Curtis, who also saddles Shantou Flyer, said: "I would be happier taking Cue Card on if it was good ground, which he needs. He's very fresh and well not having run since December and we didn't want to go straight to Cheltenham.
"Shantou Flyer has run two nice races at Cheltenham. Take Cue Card out of it and he's not far off the others in terms of ratings and there is no reason why he shouldn't run well as he goes on any ground."
Gary Moore turns out Traffic Fluide a week after his seasonal return against Altior in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.
His trainer said: "It's not ideal but it's a track he runs well at and last week should have got the fizz out of him.
"Over two miles last week we thought it was better going with the pace, but up in trip he can be put to sleep early on."
Royal Regatta is another who enjoys Ascot, but his trainer Philip Hobbs is realistic as regards expectations.
"It's extremely difficult with a horse rated 157, said Hobbs. "We went back to Cheltenham again [last month] and, for whatever reason, he has never performed there.
"He always seems to run well at Ascot, but realistically, barring a miracle, he's not going to beat Cue Card. We hope he runs well."
Taquin Du Seuil, this season's BetVictor Gold Cup winner, completes the field.