Has Cue Card been sold down the River by younger Native?
Tizzard triumphs continue on road to 2017 Cheltenham Festival
If this year’s festive horse racing proved anything, then it’s surely what a force to be reckoned with Colin Tizzard’s stable should be come the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
Native River’s incredible Coral Welsh Grand National romp off top-weight followed up on a one-two for the Somerset based trainer in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, courtesy of Thistlecrack and Cue Card.
This trio of terrific horses have already scooped well over £500k in prize money between them this season for handler Tizzard, now 3/1 second-favourite with Coral for the National Hunt Trainers Championship, and connections.
Thistlecrack odds the real deal
On just his fourth run over fences, the top staying hurdler from 2015/16 in Thistlecrack demonstrated he could cut it in open company to scoop one leg of the Stayers Chase Triple Crown in spectacular fashion.
Stablemate Cue Card under Paddy Brennan went to press the mount of Coral horse racing ambassador Tom Scudamore hard in the back straight, but coming out of it and turning for home Thistlecrack simply switched gears and put the race to bed before easing down when assured of victory.
It was a scarily good display from last season’s undisputed top staying hurdler, and Thistlecrack’s odds of following in the footsteps of 2015 victor Coneygree by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a novice chaser are now evens.
Only six postwar renewals of the prestigious 3m 2 1/2f contest have returned winners at shorter SPs than that (Prince Regent in 1946, multiple winners Cottage Rake in 1949 and 1950 and Arkle in 1965 and 1966, plus Best Mate in 2004).
To anyone who witnessed the King George, however, there can be little doubting Thistlecrack’s credentials now. Instead, the events of the festive period raise more salient questions about Cue Card.
Change of Tack for Cue Card bets?
A three-time Betfair Chase winner at Haydock, Cue Card could now be aimed at a drop back in trip for the 2m 5f Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Tizzard’s 2015 King George winner turns 11 early in the New Year, and no horse of that age has ever landed the spoils in that mooted March alternative around Prestbury Park.
Cue Card did win the 2013 running of the Ryanair Chase, and holds a 100 per cent record over 2m 5f with two victories out of two, so he’s a 5/1 second-favourite in the ante post betting. Those successes came as a seven-year-old, however.
The last five renewals of the Ryanair Chase all went to horses aged eight and under, so of the 2016 King George entries Josses Hill, who came last, would ironically be suited best as he is regularly campaigned at two-and-a-half miles.
What’s in doubt is whether Cue Card could cope with younger horses that don’t need to be staying steeplechasers in a contest caught between the essential speed for 2m trips and the stamina required to go three miles plus. Either way, he’s no longer fancied for the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 12/1.
Johnson the perfect partner for nifty Native
Tizzard’s embarrassment of riches is in no small part thanks to Native River who, like Thistlecrack with Scudamore, has found the ideal pilot in champion jockey Richard Johnson.
Native River is a three-time winner with Johnson on board from four outings, and they were placed second in the other.
Prior to going down 2 3/4 lengths to Silsol in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on seasonal reappearance, Native River virtually made all to land the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree’s Grand National meeting over an extended 3m.
He also stayed superbly as a 1 3/4 lengths runner-up to Minella Rocco in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in the hands of an amateur jockey, which is just shy of four gruelling miles.
While toying with a return to hurdles at Wetherby didn’t quite work in terms of the result, connections and Tizzard may just have pitched Native River in that Grade 2 as he needed the run. He certainly came on for it, because the six-year-old has won his next two starts.
Native River each-way emerges as Cheltenham Gold Cup punt
The first of those came in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury where Johnson hung on to hold off staying Neil Mulholland gelding Carole’s Destrier to score by half-a-length.
Rated favourite for both the Hennessy and then the Coral Welsh Grand National, Native River justified being hotly fancied at Chepstow by shouldering 11st 12lb (including a 4lb penalty) with aplomb.
It was the way Johnson took up the running still with a circuit to go in the Welsh National, and was content to be a front-runner for so long in a race over an extended 3m 5f that caught the eye.
Quotes from the bookies flew in for Native River in the Cheltenham Gold Cup off the back of his Chepstow success, and Coral cut him to 8/1 (from 10s) to land that even richer prize.
At those odds and based on such fine form, Native River each-way looks a serious ante post punt for chasing’s most coveted crown.