There was no hiding place for Cue Card in the Grade 1 William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton in Boxing Day and, once again, the Colin Tizzard-trained gelding came up trumps with a display that signified that he possesses an ideal blend of steel and class.
Cue Card had been suggested as ante-post selection for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup at the double figure odds of 14-1 after an exuberant defeat of Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November and it was a contrasting performance in the King George VI Chase where any doubts about the success of an operation on his epiglottis were dispelled as he had to be asked for the last ounce from Paddy Brennan to collar Vautour virtually on the line.
The nature of his finishing effort suggested that the three and a quarter miles of the Gold Cup could now hold no fears and, with the Blue Riband of Steeple Chasing just over two and a half months away, the Tizzard team can be assured to produce Cue Card fresh and well on March 18 as he bids for £1 million bonus.
It had been suggested to keep the powder dry as far as the Gold Cup was concerned after Vautour had won a Grade 2 Chase at Ascot earlier in the year and that impression appeared to be confirmed in the Kempton three-miler as the Willie Mullins-trainer gelding looked all over the winner until subsiding in the final strides. Connections will not decide which of the Cheltenham race Vautour goes for until much nearer the time but the Gold Cup, Ryanair Chase and Queen Mother Champion Chase all enter the mix.
Remember it was in the JLT Novices Chase over two and a half miles at the Festival last March that Vautour registered his most impressive victory and should Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins give him the go ahead for the Ryanair then there is no need to look elsewhere for the winner. It is understandable that the Queen Mother Champion Chase comes into consideration for Vautour as it was a rather murky picture that was left for that race after the weekend’s event. Un De Sceaux remains no bigger than 13-8 after falling in the Grade 1 Paddy Power “So Quick, So Easy Iphone App” Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Click here for all the best Cheltenham Festival odds
On the same day at Kempton, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy provided a real Winter warmer in the Grade 2 williamhill.com Desert Orchid Chase when three quarters of a length separated the two former winners of the Queen Mother Champion Chase but as grand as their performance were neither struck you as one to load the ammo on at this stage.
Another to light up the Leopardstown card was Ivanovich Gorbatov who put in a flawless performance to land the three-year-old maiden hurdle for Aidan O’Brien, JP McManus and Barry Geraghty and earned a 12-1 quote for the Triumph Hurdle from Ladbrokes.
That could well prove a decent price for a hurdling recruit rated 104 on the Flat and he can only harden significantly further if coming up to scratch in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle back at Leopardstown in February.
At Leopardstown on Tuesday, Don Poli gave the impression that the uphill finish and three and a quarter miles of the Gold Cup are just what the doctor ordered when battling to victory from the same owners First Lieutenant in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase.
The proximity of On His Own and Foxrock and the fact that the runner-up had finished third to Smad Place in the Hennessy Gold Cup (subsequently 16 ½ lengths behind Cue Card in the King George) don’t instill too much confidence on that performance but Don Poli remains one who will only just pull out enough at present.