It really would be the fairytale finale to an eight year career if Cue Card wins National Hunt racing’s Blue Riband on Friday afternoon, writes racing expert Adam Vowles.
Since winning the Champion Bumper way back in 2010 Colin Tizzard’s 11-year-old has been perpetual at the top level notching up 9 Grade 1 victories along the way. 11 years old. This is the biggest negative that confronts Cue Card on his third attempt in the race. Cool Dawn was the last horse to win the Gold Cup aged 10 or older back in 1998 and if victorious Cue Card would be the oldest winner since the 12-year-old What A Myth way back in 1969.
However he has been in grand form this season winning his third Betfair Chase in the autumn and the Ascot Chase for the second time last month in good style. These successes sandwiched a gallant second to the imperious Thistlecrack in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. Tizzard feels the age factor holds no bounds "People say well, he's got be waning. One day he will, but I don't think for one second he is."
Native River is also towards the top of the market for the same trainer and has shown impressive progress during his second season chasing. The seven year old has gone up 19lbs since last April’s Mildmay Chase victory and is now on a mark of 168 due to victories in the Hennessey Gold Cup and the Welsh National – what are traditionally fiercely competitive handicaps. Native River showed his versatility last time out when dictating matters in the three runner Denman Chase at Newbury, quickening on the run in to complete a hat-trick.
Critics suggest he is merely a handicapper having beaten horses with a much lower potential rating than himself whilst on the upgrade and that his main rival in the Denman Chase, Bristol De Mai didn’t not give his true running and was reported lame afterwards. However the last winner off top weight in the Welsh National was in 1991 which suggests it is no easy task and Synchronised won it in 2010 on route to Gold Cup success in 2011.
The dual runner up heads the challenge for the Irish contingent and looks sure to give his running once again. He stayed on well to win the John Durkin Memorial Chase on seasonal reappearance in December but then could only manage a close third in the Lexus behind Outlander two weeks later. The race was run at a muddling pace that day and in hindsight Djakadam would have benefitted from running more prominently.
Unlike the previous two tilts at the title the Rich Ricci owned eight-year-old has had a trouble free preparation this time around and Willie Mullins appears very bullish about his chances. Especially with his past conquerors (Coneygree and Don Poli) failing to make the lineup, "this year everything's gone perfectly and I think he's ready to run the race of his life."
Outlander comes into the mix having beaten Djakadam last time out in the Lexus, improving on his previous form which has included 4 close second place efforts and 2 falls. Once when in command in the Clonmel Oil Chase in November and also at Cheltenham last year in the JLT.
Outlander wins the lexus Chase
Sizing John has also improved this season relishing the step up to 3miles to land the Irish Gold Cup at Punchestown last month staying on well but the fast pace and extra yardage at Cheltenham may be a step too far and will most likely need to improve again.
Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus are represented by More Of That and Minella Rocco but both failed to stay up in the aforementioned Irish Gold Cup with More Of that having the better chance of the two. Champagne West has been rejuvenated since moving to Henry de Bromhead winning a Listed Chase on New Year’s Day then following up by romping home in the Theystes at the end of January with front running tactics paying dividends – it would take an awesome performance to win adopting a similar style here.
Whilst several have a fair each way chance, the Gold Cup really looks to be between the top three in the market. Despite going well when falling at the third last fence last year and still showing top class form, Cue Card may find it difficult to maintain the pace against a larger field than he is used to with the drying ground also of some concern. Djakadam’s Gold Cup experience is invaluable and the huge confidence from his stable point to another huge run but the vast improvement NATIVE RIVER
(9/2, William Hill
has shown this season is extraordinary. He has proved himself in races with a strong pace and his staying power may just see him grind his rivals into submission.