Ian Ogg reflects on Cue Card's victory in the Betfair Chase
Ian Ogg reflects on the coming-of-age of Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
By Ian Ogg
Last Updated: 23/11/13 8:46pm
This was the return match between Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti, who had been travelling so strongly when falling three out at Cheltenham in March.
Victory would provide the latter's supporters with some sort of recompense and the upper hand in arguments to be held in the Arkle Bar for the first three and a half days of the Festival next March.
But there was a joker in the pack. Not everyone had dismissed Cue Card - Nick Luck put him up earlier in the week and Timeform had him joint top-rated coming into the contest - but certainly many had lost faith following a defeat in the Haldon Gold Cup that initially left his trainer and jockey deflated.
To paraphrase Ogden Nash, the sensible fish swims downstream and only the game fish swims upstream. Colin Tizzard is clearly as game a fish as they come as it would have been easy to go down the two-to-two-and-a-half mile route with their chaser, who is certainly blessed with speed.
He'd appeared not to stay three miles in the King George but here he was trying a furlong further in one of the most competitive staying chases to have been seen away from Cheltenham for many a year.
He didn't just last home though, he stayed every yard of the trip. He didn't creep into the race and pick off his rivals, he was in the vanguard throughout and saw them off one by one. This was a crowning performance of a career that has been something of a slow burner since he burst onto the scene but wines, people and horses all mature at different rates and this precocious youngster has now realised the potential that was so evident as a four year old.
Still only seven, his victory in the Ryanair Chase was a brilliant performance but that race, still in its infancy, lacks the prestige of the major staying contests and his victory, while acknowledged, was never going to be afforded the same respect as if he'd won a King George or a Gold Cup.
Time will tell whether he can add one of those prizes to his haul but this contest had both strength and depth and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
There will be head scratching and reasons proffered for the vanquished and many may well hold water for this is the start of the season and the course evidently unlike those of Cheltenham and Kempton.
Or it could just be that this is the season during which Cue Card sheds his skin to emerge the true champion he looked he might be when waltzing his way up the Cheltenham hill to win the Champion Bumper by eight lengths as a still wet-behind-the-ears four year old.
The runner-up that day in March was a grey called Al Ferof and only minutes before Cue Card's victory, Paul Nicholls' bright prospect was making his eagerly-awaited return to action far from the hustle and bustle of Haydock.
With just French Opera for company (and not close company at that), he clocked up a simple win in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot on his first start since winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup over 12 months ago.
Quite what he did during this glorified schooling session to have five points cut off his price for the Boxing Day showpiece I will never be able to explain to my satisfaction but he's now only behind the first three in the Betfair Chase in the ante-post market.
He will have to step up to the plate next month for his first proper test in open company on his first start beyond two miles five but has always shaped as though he would relish a stiffer test.
The same could not necessarily always have been said of Cue Card with his unusual head-carriage, occasional lack of fluency at his fences, and characteristic free-running style. But that argument has been put to bed... for a few weeks, at least.