Saturday’s Betfair Chase, registered as the Lancashire Chase, was beforehand titled ‘a mini Gold Cup’ and the almighty hype was answered in truly typical national hunt style with a big shock. With quality racing elsewhere, admittedly overshadowed by the minimalistic fields, this was certainly the show-piece on what promised to be a huge day regarding future plans for the best staying chasers England has/had to offer. Cue Card emphatically silenced the doubters (one of whom was myself), with a bold front-running display to notch up “the best performance of his career”, beating the likes of consistent and previous victor of the Gold Cup Long Run, reigning Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth, class act Silviniaco Conti, flashy young pretender Dynaste, and the enigmatic old rogue Tidal Bay.
There was little hiding place for error in a strongly ran race from start to finish by the winner, which surprisingly contributed to the downfall of the more experienced horses. Ironic as it seems, being perhaps one of the most questioned runners, Cue Card has really made his mark on the race and obliged in style. It was a welcomed win for team Tizzard, the father and son combination that are not shy of success yet have arguably not gained the credit they have deserved, until now.
Dynaste ran a gallant race in second for the in-form stable of David Pipe, yet was simply stunned by Cue Cards relentless gallop and solid jumping ability, he travelled the best of all into the race but never posed a serious threat to the latter mentioned. He has lost very little in defeat and lives to fight another day, though it remains to be seen whether winning the best race of them all in March is within his capabilities. You couldn’t be discouraged however and he could find more improvement, the King George looks the ideal race for him next considering his brilliant Feltham win as a novice.
Silviniaco Conti ran a good race, but ultimately disappointed his supporters with a rather lack lustre run, in addition, Far West also was beaten, so the form of Paul Nicholls’ string has to be questioned. Others posted worse efforts though and he would be one to keep on the right side of- who knows how last year’s Gold Cup would have finished had he stood up at the third last? Overall I wouldn’t be overly disheartened by his showing as he jumped and stayed on well, yet from a horse of this calibre (with a highest official rating of 175) you would have hoped for more, he was beaten comprehensively by the better horse on the day.
Long Run finished in fourth position after his horrendously bad yet justifiable run against Harry Topper in the Charlie Hall. Not for the first time his jumping down the Haydock back straight led to his demise, allowing the others to flood past, something that he could simply not get away with in a race of this quality. He’s ultra-consistent and an admirable horse for what he has achieved, he is still only 8 yet it seems his time has passed, is there any more to come from the Henderson trained horse? I highly doubt he would be able to replicate the great Kauto Star in regaining the Cheltenham Gold Cup now.
Tidal Bay was fancied by many to go well in this race and is one of the most popular horses in training. With Sam Twiston-Davies aboard again and a notable second to Imperial Commander in the Betfair Chase previously to boast, he looked to hold a decent chance. In a nutshell he was always at the rear, jumped reasonably and stayed on at the one pace. The main question is where to go from here, is the Gold Cup still a logical long term target? Or will he return to the scene of his second place in the Hennessey next weekend? The Grand National is also an option for the later stages of the season yet weight would surely pay a significant part in that plan. I expected him to stay on better than he did as the pace was so fast, maybe he wasn’t in the mood on this occasion!
Surely the talking horse of the race has to be Bobs Worth– with his illustrious record going left-handed, his preference for the softer ground and his form fresh all being discarded as he finished sixth, 40 lengths behind Cue Card. This suggests something was clearly amiss. However he was eased by jockey Barry Geraghty, so I’m sure he’ll be back to his best another day. I think it was admirable how they looked after him. After hitting a flat spot when winning the Gold Cup, he stayed on again up the hill, he was one of the first main players off the bridle here and wasn’t able to recover, even though the ground conditions were similar to those he experienced and revelled in at Cheltenham. There’s no doubt Bobs Worth it a tough little animal and even though he is often considered a festival horse, he won the Hennessey very well, which could be his next port of call. Fitness may also have been the issue, but I think it’s a run that may well be forgotten for numerous reasons.
Little needs to be said about The Giant Bolster, whom also runs well at Cheltenham. He proved many of us to be correct this outing; he is just slightly below top class. He’s a brave horse who runs well when punching above his weight and no one can begrudge his owners for running him in these top class races as he clearly has talent, but it was never going to be enough on this day.
Roi Du Mee was pulled up unsurprisingly after being up with the leader for a long way, this highlights how well Cue Card did stay, as those who took him on were legless at the time when he was still forging on relentlessly, showing his ability to stretch again and stay on in the final furlong. Roi Du Mee is a smart horse in his own right, and I think he has another big race in him, yet it may be wise to stay the other side of the Irish Sea to see him at his best and therefore another Grade 1 victory may not come easy to the Gigginstown chaser.
Overall, Saturday’s racing was exciting and informative, Cue Card was simply awesome, yet without being too negative, I think it’s safe to say the likes of Silviniaco Conti, Tidal Bay and especially Bobs Worth ran below par. Personally the winner doesn’t hit me as a Gold Cup horse, yet he may well continue to do well elsewhere, or progress to prove me incorrect. Crucially it will be intriguing to see how the form works out and whether it bares much relevance- several horses where having their first run of the season (the winner had the benefit of a run) and I think the form of the stable counts for a lot at this stage in the season. Finally, I would just like to give my congratulations to Colin and Joe Tizzard as I think they have done a very good job with this horse and appear to be one of the most respected, well-liked partnerships in national hunt racing today.