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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Three of the best: relive some of Cue Card's stunning highlights

Cue Card and Paddy Brennan win the 2015 Betfair Chase at Haydock
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Betfair Chase, November 21, 2015
Almost two years had passed between Cue Card’s shining 2013 Betfair Chase success and his return to the winner’s enclosure in the 2015 Charlie Hall Chase, and there were those who were already suggesting – out of earshot of the Tizzard family, naturally – that the nine-year-old’s dominant days were behind him.

He’d finished three times behind Silviniaco Conti and twice behind Don Cossack, in a succession of Grade 1s from Kempton to Punchestown via Aintree; his rating had slipped from 172 to 160 as a consequence and the Grade 2 success at Wetherby on his seasonal return, could hardly be described as a return to his pomp. It was a step in the right direction, however, and as we were soon to find out, the launch pad for one of the defining performances of his career.

The opposition at Haydock that day wasn’t strong numerically, but the five-runner field included Dynaste – runner-up in the Charlie Hall – and, more crucially, Silviniaco Conti, who had floored Cue Card in the previous year’s running and also in two King Georges. The Paul Nicholls-trained top-notcher was unsurprisingly sent off the 5-4 favourite and the longer he was allowed an uncontested lead and a pressure-free round of jumping, the shorter his true odds looked. On the evidence of past campaigns he might have been expected to sustain his dominance, but this was a revitalised Cue Card he was dealing with and when Paddy Brennan loomed up in the wing mirrors of Noel Fehily, it soon became plain that the challenge was to be both real and irresistible.

The pride of Venn Farm had a first nibble at his old rival eight fences from home but was outjumped and put on the back foot; but by the time they turned into the home straight, however, he was back on the bridle and seemingly capable of sweeping into the lead at will. Brennan let him stride on three out and from two out he was able to saunter to a frankly dismissive victory.

Cue Card won by seven lengths, recorded his best Racing Post Rating since his bold effort in defeat behind Sprinter Sacre at Aintree in April 2013, and all of a sudden the jumping landscape was a very different place.

Members can watch the 2015 Betfair Chase here

The connections of the runner-up offered no excuses, no doubt recognising the huge public appeal of such a series of contests between two such admirable beasts. Tizzard, meanwhile, was overjoyed to see his stable star return to his best. “It was always going to happen,” he said. “It's lovely to have him back. We thought Wetherby was brilliant but we were getting the conditions of the race and today he was taking them all on and he has done it really well. Why would we run away from Kempton? There is no reason not to go there.”

No ducking of the issue, Kempton it was to be, and for the racing public another chance to see this titan of the Turf in his considerable prime.

King George VI Chase, December 26, 2015
Cue Card seemed back to being the pre-eminent three-mile steeplechaser in the land. The debilitating effects of the stress fracture he suffered to his pelvis had clearly relented and success at Haydock set up a mighty clash between not only between the Betfair Chase 1-2 but also the cream of the Irish.

In fact Cue Card didn’t even go off favourite at Kempton, with that honour falling to Don Cossack, on a five-timer after a string of successes that included the Melling Chase at Aintree and the Punchestown Gold Cup (with Cue Card behind him on both occasions) and the Champion Chase at Down Royal, Grade 1s all of them.

Behind the Gordon Elliott-trained 15-8 shot came the Willie Mullins six-year-old Vautour at 3-1, followed at an oddly respectful distance by the revitalised challenger in the blue and pink silks of Bob and Jean Bishop. Smad Place was there as well, and Al Ferof, in a nine-strong field that oozed quality, but there could only be one reputation left undented at the finish.

Cue Card (far side) battles on gallantly to beat Vautour in a King George Classic

Silviniaco Conti made the running but was a spent force four from home and pulled up; Vautour, the young pretender, seemed to be travelling with a venom to match his reputation when he hit the front at the 11th and was still leading when he jumped the last; Don Cossack evidently didn’t have the cruising speed of his young rival but stayed on to challenge two fences out; yet Brennan sat with confidence, tracking Vautour, taking a pull, keeping one eye behind him and the other on the strong-running leader until he made his play.

Two out, Don Cossack fell when grinding his way into contention; Vautour was seemingly moving like a winner and Cue Card looked to be fighting a losing battle, but then the tide began to turn. Ruby Walsh went from imperious to industrious between the final two fences, then to borderline desperate as they cleared the last, with the first signs of fading stamina emanating from the leader; Cue Card wasn’t foot perfect over it but he landed running and with the scent of weakness in his nostrils.

Members can watch the 2015 King George Chase here

Brennan needed no second bidding. A length down at the last but with momentum on his side, he asked the question of his old ally, knowing from experience that the response would be wholehearted and unwavering. Cue Card began to respond, started to close the gap, Brennan at his strongest, Walsh in full cry, the line just far enough away for one, inches too far for the other.

They crossed the line together. Don Cossack would have won if he hadn’t fallen, said some; Vautour would have won if he had stayed, insisted others; Cue Card didn’t fall and he did stay, his willing head was down when it needed to be and his fan club were delighted. He had been to the bottom of the well and come up with reserves of courage that even he had surely never shown before. It was perhaps his finest hour.

Betfair Chase, November 19, 2016
By the time November 2016 came around, Cue Card had fallen in the Gold Cup, won in the Bowl at Aintree and flopped at Punchestown. He was on top of his game but not invincible and the presence of old rival Silviniaco Conti in the field at Haydock, along with the fragile but formidable Coneygree, meant the ten-year-old wouldn’t have things all his own way.

The 15-8 favourite he may have been, but this was a select field of five racing on heavy ground and he would have to be near his best to prevail. His best was what he did best, of course, and this day was no exception.

Paddy Brennan celebrates after Cue Card wins his third Betfair Chase

It was no surprise to see Coneygree, the 2014 Gold Cup winner, take up the running under Richard Johnson, nor to see the Ditcheat standard bearer Silviniaco Conti track him from flagfall. Cue Card was versatile, so no tactics would surprise his followers, least of all the cagey waiting game played by Brennan on the first circuit. What happened as the race hotted up may not have been a complete surprise either, but it was startling nonetheless.

Where many would have been expecting Brennan to sit and wait for the action to unfold in front of him – in fact the man himself claimed to have got there too soon when quizzed in the aftermath – what he did was to take the bull boldly by the horns. Perhaps it was the huge leap Cue Card put in at the 12th that encouraged, perhaps even forced, the jockey to play his hand, but whatever the reason, his rider took him up alongside Coneygree with fully six fences remaining to set up a sustained duel that was not for the faint of heart.

The Mark Bradstock-trained challenger stuck stoutly to his task, but Cue Card was travelling visibly the better on the turn for home and produced a stunning leap four out that took him into a decisive lead. Johnson’s urgings produced a gallant response and this was no cakewalk for the reigning champion, but Brennan insisted and Cue Card was happy to oblige.

Members can watch the 2016 Betfair Chase here

The winning margin of 15 lengths may not have been kind to the runner-up yet in no way did it flatter Cue Card either. A third Betfair Chase had been seized in emphatic style and the rest of the field was strung out in the distance.

Afterwards Tizzard purred at the way the winner had learned to love heavy going, floating over it in a manner that had seemed an impossibility in his formative years. “He’s equally as good as he’s ever been,” enthused the trainer, and after such a decisive performance from the senior statesman of the jumps, rated as being only 4lb below his peak efforts, few would have been minded to disagree.

If you're interested in this you might like:

Cue Card's glorious career comes to an end as connections call time

In pictures: the best images from Cue Card's stunning career

You can pre-order Cue Card: A Tribute to a Special Horse from the Racing Post shop now

'He had been to the bottom of the well and come up with reserves of courage that even he had surely never shown before'

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Cue Card
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