Since being elevated to Grade One status in 2008, the showpiece for horses that excel at the intermediate distance has developed into one of the most exciting chase races of entire Cheltenham Festival…
What happened in 2014?
This was the day when Cue Card matured into the special chaser that many had predicted he’d become when he won the Champion Bumper by a street in 2010. Colin Tizzard’s charge routed a competitive field by nine lengths as he made all in his flamboyant style.
His jumping wasn’t foot-perfect – it never is – but no mistakes were damaging enough for him and rider Joe Tizzard to lose any momentum as they led the field a merry dance from the front.
The field closed on last year’s Arkle runner-up as they approached the final two fences, spearheaded by the classy First Lieutenant, but Cue Card always had more in reserve as First Lieutenant’s jumping went to pieces over the final few fences.
The Irish raider held on for second while For Non Stop, and a fast finishing Riverside Theatre, battled it out for the minor honours.
The fact that the winner was pushed up front by Champion Court, who finished very tired, was able to gallop on relentlessly for a dominant success suggests this was the top-class performance it looked.
This is his race to lose in 2014, and he can make his presence felt at three miles and perhaps even back against Sprinter Sacre if Tizzard decides to go down that route again.
2014 Major Players
Albertas Run showed that this is a race that a horse can dominate for a number of years by winning it twice and finished placed on a separate occasion.
If the Tizzard’s decide to go down this route again, and early indications suggest they will, then Cue Card is the one they all have to beat. At only seven-years-old Cue Card still has a rapid amount of improving to do and you feel that if staying sound, he’ll improve further over the course of this season.
That Ryanair win was, from a form and race analysis perspective, one of the most outstanding of the 2013 Festival. Highlighted by First Lieutenant going onto win the Aintree Bowl at Aintree next time out and finishing third in the Punchestown Gold Cup behind Sir Des Champs. Cue Card is easily in that barometer of class now.
The one to really test him at this distance could be Nicky Henderson’s young chaser Simonsig, who won the Arkle last season and is unbeaten over fences. Henderson is keen to keep him and Sprinter Sacre apart, so this looks the most likely route for the spring-heeled grey.
First Lieutenant could be back for another crack at Cue Card but may be targeted at the Gold Cup, while Jewson runner-up Dynaste may develop into a top class chaser this season.
Betting advice: strong race trends
It certainly pays to latch onto a horse coming down from three miles rather than one stepping up from two when searching for the 2m5f Ryanair winner.
Cheltenham is a stiff test and exposes any chink in stamina. Since the race became a Grade One in 2008, stamina-focused horses like Our Vic, Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander and RSA winner Albertas Run have all won the Ryanair. Even Cue Card, despite his profile, is thought of as a three miler rather than a speed horse by his connections.
This stamina theory only is backed up by the King George VI record held by winners of this race. Five of the last six winners had all run in the King George at Kempton. Also, keep an eye on the big chasing handicaps run at Cheltenham, like the Paddy Power Gold Cup and December Gold Cup.
There’s no reason to think that Cue Card can’t come back and successfully defend his crown.
The 5/1 with Paddy Power looks well worth snapping up.