We had confirmation last night that Cue Card will head to the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, with the ongoing debate of a shot at the Ryanair quickly halted. This is the best decision Jean Bishop could have made, not just for herself, but for racing and the horse itself. Colin Tizzard possibly would’ve secretly preferred the Ryanair route as he’s already plenty strong in the big race, but even he can’t begrudge the decision of one of his longest serving and loyal owners. One below par run in the King George has seen Cue Card suddenly casted aside in any debate surrounding the Gold Cup. Thistlecrack is rightly the strong odds-on favourite, but still (no matter what people throw at you) has questions to answer.
Cue Card arguably put up one of the best performances from a staying chaser so far this season in the Betfair Chase at Haydock; visually and on the clock. He ran well below his best at Kempton and finished only three lengths back from the winner and now odds-on favourite for the Gold Cup. This post isn’t trying to argue that Cue Card is better than Thistlecrack, but suggesting fans have been quick to forget Cue Card and prices available after Boxing Day of around 20/1 were laughable. The price is slowly contracting as people come to terms with the reality, and after Jean Bishop declared the Gold Cup as the aim, 12 is as good as you’ll get.
Whilst far from a Cue Card groupie, admittedly I backed it for last year’s Gold Cup and still believe he would have won had he not come down. If he can prove, and it is an if, that Kempton was a rare off day he will push Thistlecrack all the way and under pressure in a bigger field any horse has a mistake in him. Let alone a novice running with the weight of the racing world on his shoulders. The gasps drawn from the crowd when Thistlecrack was jumping around Kempton weren’t always out of pure admiration, there was a whole lot of worry in there as well. It’s somewhat a cliche, but his style is all or nothing over the fences and in a nutshell this could be the case come March.
Djakadam is seen as the safest each way alternative in many circles, and again I can’t see this over Cue Card. He was beaten at a canter by Cue Card at the end of season Aintree meet and has only won once since in a 30k Grade One in Ireland. Yes, he is a safe pair of hands and likely to get round, but he is no better than last year and his run at Leopardstown even suggests he is regressing. Whilst I don’t believe he has regressed from the Gold Cup run last year, he certainly hasn’t improved and he would still need to find something to get by Cue Card. Many also believe Cue Card has lost some of his ability, whilst not having much to go on bar Kempton. You have to be able to forgive a horse a run in racing – especially in jumps racing – if not you’d quickly run out of horses to follow.
Cue Card is not better than Thistlecrack and has a huge task ahead of him if wanting to get into a real tussle at Cheltenham. But the way he has been ignored in discussion and debate around the big race is amusing, yet puzzling. It is no longer trendy to side with Cue Card and therefore you must find the ‘alternative’. This isn’t even a recommendation to back Cue Card, although if anywhere near 20s again that may change. Softer ground than in the King George will aid Tizzards’ veteran and although far from guaranteed, you’d have to think it will be at least Good to Soft in March. A prep run was the aim at a shorter trip before a possible tilt at the Ryanair, but now this is finally out of the question he could possibly go straight to Cheltenham. One run prior to March could reveal a lot and help alleviate the risk of believing Cue Card hasn’t regressed significantly, whilst a comprehensive win would throw Cue Cards name back into the hat that it should never have left. Native River and Thistlecrack are the two to chase, but any mistakes or breakdown in the race as those two fight it out and Cue Card will be there, if not already there, to mount a challenge around the bend.