Will Cue Card follow Imperial Commander and win Cheltenham Gold Cup?
Will Cue Card take the ‘Imperial Commander route’ to the Cheltenham Gold Cup? That is the intriguing question being asked about Colin Tizzard’s celebrity after his sumptuous Ryanair Chase performance last week.
Fours years ago Imperial Commander won the Ryanair and 12 months later returned to the Cheltenham Festival to land the supreme prize.
Tizzard is itching to run Cue Card over three miles on a decent surface. His only attempt at that trip so far finished in disappointment when fifth in the King George at Kempton Park over Christmas on heavy ground.
But on better going Tizzard and his jockey son Joe are confident the King’s Theatre gelding will get three miles, if not this season then certainly in the next campaign when he should be even stronger with a few more months under his belt.
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If he does prove himself over that trip Cue Card would enter the Gold Cup picture especially as he is a Cheltenham specialist. In four Festival visits he has won two Grade One contests, chased home Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle Trophy and been fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The Ryanair triumph was a career best from the seven-year-old who led the 2m5f affair from pillar to post under an astute ride from Tizzard junior before pulling nine lengths clear of favourite First Lieutenant up the final hill.
While he is longing to have a crack at the premier three-milers the trainer still has half an eye on challenging the supremacy of Sprinter Sacre. Though Cue Card avoided a clash with his 2012 Arkle conqueror in the Queen Mother Champion Chase last week the Tizzards have not ruled out having another swipe at Nicky Henderson’s ‘Big Black Aeroplane’.
Cue Card has the speed to win at two miles – witness his Haldon Gold Cup success in November – and if he reproduces his Ryanair brilliance against Henderson’s beast it promises to be quite a contest.
Cue Card was bouncing back home at his Milborne Port stable over the weekend – and even the trainer was able to relax and enjoy the moment knowing it was Mission Accomplished.
Colin Tizzard said: “There is a lot of pressure when you have a really nice horse and he did everything in the Ryanair we thought he would. They went a true gallop and he proved he can stay – it was a beautiful ride from Joe and I’m very proud of my son.
“You saw Cue Card at his best jumping fast and fluently and travelling well within himself. I wasn’t really watching the horse, I was watching Joe and he was very confident – he wasn’t forcing him and took a pull two or three times to make sure he got the trip.
“Cue Card is a lot easier to ride these days – he just drops the bit and you can go as fast as you like on him. What’s more he has improved this season.
“When Cue Card won the Champion Bumper three years ago it made my spine tingle and my heart was pumping like mad this time but Joe was a lot cooler than I was.
“He’s the best horse I have ever had and am ever likely to have – I could go on for another 20 years and not train another Cue Card.”
Joe Tizzard, who rode his first Festival winner aboard Earthmover in the 1998 Foxhunter Chase as a teenager for Dorset trainer Richard Barber, said: “People say Cue Card is keen when he’s taken on – and he has been in the past – but he wasn’t today.
“I went to post on a long rein and he settled well. With a circuit to go I decided to slow things down and go my pace. I was able to keep filling him up and he’s done what I always knew he was capable of – he’s top-class. It’s fantastic for me, the yard and the horse because he’s had his detractors.”
Whether it’s up or down in trip for the future, Cue Card will stick to distances like Thursday’s for this season. If he does run again this spring the obvious target is the Grade One Melling Chase over 2m4f on Friday, April 5, the second day of the Aintree Festival.