Colin Tizzard, who believes stable stalwart Cue Card is back to his best form, says no decision had been made about which race the evergreen 12-year-old will go for at The Festival next month.
Owner Jean Bishop is arriving on Sunday for a three-day visit to Tizzard’s Spurles Farm Stables on the Dorset/Somerset border and the subject will be raised again then, but a final decision may not be made until closer to the best four days of Jump racing.
Cue Card has fallen at the third last in the two most recent runnings of the G1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, the first time when a £1-million bonus was possible, while he won the shorter G1 Ryanair Chase back in 2013.
Paddy Brennan, in the saddle for five of Cue Card’s nine G1 victories and also his two Gold Cup falls, was reunited with Cue Card in the G1 Betfair Ascot Chase over two miles and five furlongs last weekend and they finished second to Waiting Patiently, the pair clear of five others.
Tizzard, who believes he has a strong team for The Festival, said: “I think we have some good chances in the novices’ races, while Cue Card will run a big race in whatever he goes in. I think we have better chances for The Festival this year than last year.
“We seem to be in better form this season – we redid the gallop over Christmas. It had got wet and dirty, with no spring left in it. So we took all the woodchip off and redid it. The horses are working better since then. Some of my staff definitely think it has made a difference.
“Robbie Power is the first jockey for the Potts horses or we can use Bryan (Cooper) or if he is busy in Ireland, we can use whoever we like.
“Paddy will ride Cue Card again at Cheltenham next month. I was quite keen for Paddy on Saturday to be always going forward and that is a license for Paddy to kick on. He just wanted to make Cue Card’s mind up over the first two and then he sat still – a couple of times horses went by him. Cue Card does not have to make the running.
“I don’t know why Cue Card has had problems with the third last in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup – the third last is still there in the Ryanair. Do horses remember? Jockeys riding them might. I am sure I will remember. Cue Card has been a good jumper all his life – the first time he tanked into it when it looked like if he had popped over he would have been away.
“The second time he clipped the top and over he came. Coincidence. I have been through the falls in my mind and I don’t think there is anything to say why that happened or why it should happen again at the fence. I always watch our horses and wouldn’t look away.
“We had Paddy in last Thursday morning and he went over the schooling fences fast on Cue Card. That is when we took the fluffy noseband off, running in an ordinary snaffle, as we wanted Cue Card to pull again and that is what he did and he was brilliant over those schooling fences. Was that because he was in good form and had been slightly out of form before or because of the changes we made?
“If he maintains the form he is in now, Cue Card can go for either of those races at The Festival and we won’t feel we are doing anything we shouldn’t.
“Jean (Bishop – owner) is coming down on Sunday and we may not make up our minds finally until declaration time – we want to keep the door open in case the favourites come out of one of the races.
“We had nine Grade One successes last season which was unreal, but we are going better this season as a racing yard with our lovely young horses. We are winning with a lot of different horses and most of the Grade One races are yet to come. We have some good powerful ammunition left.
“I am not disappointed in this season at all. We have had 59 winners, more than we have ever had, though we have more horses, and gone through the £1 million in prize money barrier.
“It is difficult to win two or three Grade Ones, let alone nine, which was never going to be maintained. We are still trying.
“Do we run our horses at Exeter, where they have a winning chance, or do we wait and have a go at the championship races, which we have always done. My wife, Pauline, and daughter Kim say I aim too high, though Joe doesn’t.”
“Fox Norton is a good horse. He missed the Game Spirit (Betfair Exchange Chase) at Newbury earlier this month as he had puss in his foot. After he ran in the Tingle Creek, he was lame in his back, the same issue he had after the Game Spirit last year so he had to have cortisone injections. He has a slight kissing spine. He’s got issues in his back and he had it after the King George where he didn’t jump at all, but he’s absolutely fine now.
“He’ll be fine and I expect we’ll go for the Ryanair, unless Altior scares everyone off in the Champion Chase and then we might take him on but Altior does look the business, but you must not run away from one horse.
“He nearly won the Champion Chase last year when we were supposedly out of form. All of the jockeys last year were looking for Douvan, but forget about the horse in front who they thought would stop [Special Tiara]. Well he didn’t and we gave him eight lengths going to the last and made up six lengths. Fox Norton is probably as good over two miles in a championship race as he is over two and a half-miles. The race to run in is where we think the easiest opposition is.”
“Despite everything that has been said over the last three months, he looks to me as good as he has ever been. I watch a recording (of the Betfair Ascot Chase) and he was only half a length down when he definitely got interfered with. I am not taking anything away from Waiting Patiently as he won on merit on the day.
“I think Cue Card will improve massively for the Ascot race and whether he goes for the Ryanair Chase or the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup is not decided yet. If you read Monday’s paper you would think he was going for the Cheltenham Gold Cup but I have spoken to Jean (Bishop – owner) and that is not what she wanted to say. We don’t need to decide yet.
“Cue Card is in his ninth season and it is amazing that he has maintained his form like he has. You have got to say he ran to some of his best form on Saturday – he beat the others like Frodon and Top Notch out of sight. We have felt over the last three years that he is better over three miles. There is no reason why we shouldn’t go for the biggest race – is that any harder to win than the Ryanair? Possibly, yes.”
“We wondered last season if by going for the Hennessy, then going on to the Welsh National and then the Denman Chase that maybe we had taken the edge off him so he wasn’t approaching the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the best of form. He ran well to finish thirtd.
“He’s a lot stronger this time around, he’s in great form and we had him ready from Christmas. The manner of how he won at Newbury was equally as good as he’s ever been. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the hardest race of the season, they go flat out. The big strong stayers usually win and horses like a Sizing John who can travel and have pace at the end also win, but usually the best horse wins the Gold Cup.
“We had Native River ready for Newbury – he had been to Larkhill three times as we didn’t want him to get tired, or injured and we wanted him to do himself justice so he was ready for that.
“He is bound to improve for that run, every horse does, and we’ll see if he has a nice clean run to Cheltenham and how much he has to improve to win the race, but he is absolutely lovely at home.”
“Elegant Escape is a lovely young horse and we’re leaning towards the RSA Chase with him, but if a top amateur came up, we might think about the National Hunt Chase.”
“Finian’s Oscar was pulled up in the Cleeve Hurdle and he was making a noise, so we’ve had his palate done.
“We schooled him this morning and I’d say he would wear blinkers and go for the JLT Novices’ Chase. His jumping all season has been suspect, but that’s what we’re likely to do. When he ran, most of our horses weren’t running well, but we’ve come through that.”
“He was sore behind when he got beat at Sandown and had to have a month off.
“He’s absolutely fine, he schooled this morning and is a lovely, big chasing type. He’ll go for the Ballymore or the Albert Bartlett, but I think he is more of a three-miler.”
“We’ll go to the Supreme with him. He is a lovely horse who will make a lovely chaser next season. We haven’t raced him much in the last two months as we are targeting Cheltenham, Aintree and perhaps Punchestown.
“We’d like to think we will have a go at running in at least two Festivals with him, maybe even three. We want to win the big races so we’ll start at Cheltenham in the Supreme, then we’ll go for Aintree and then see if he’s still ready for Punchestown. He needs good spring ground.”