TRAINER Colin Tizzard was thrilled to see Cue Card return to his sparkling best with a brilliant display in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
The nine-year-old threatened to become one of the dominant forces in the staying division when claiming the 2013 Betfair Chase at Haydock, but first a pelvic problem and then an issue with his wind stalled his career and he looked a shadow of his former self at Aintree and Punchestown at the end of the last campaign.
However, the new season brought fresh optimism for connections who were quietly confident about his chances on his comeback and he was the 11-4 favourite for the West Yorkshire feature.
It was evident from an early stage the Cue Card of old was back as he travelled with zest and jumped with panache in the hands of new rider Paddy Brennan.
The market leader cruised round the home turn and although there were a few seconds of worry for his supporters as he looked to be tiring on the run to the final fence, Cue Card found extra to see off old foe Dynaste by three and three-quarter lengths.
Tizzard said: “It was very difficult to be too bullish, but the last six weeks he’s been good. After last season it’s great to see him come back – you’d have to say he looked back to his best. It was a lovely ride by Paddy. I asked him whether he was going to go down the inner or the outer and he said he was going to do both. Paddy is a very confident guy and he’s been confident ever since he started schooling him.
“His work has been very good of late, but as a few of mine were blowing up first time we decided we couldn’t come here without giving him a racecourse gallop (at Wincanton). We only did it on Monday, but he went a good two miles and maybe that’s helped him. He had a trapped oesophagus last season and it was literally blocking his whole air pipe. I don’t know how he was managing to trot, never mind gallop.
“You’ll never hear me say anything against Cue Card.”
Paddy Power slashed Cue Card to 3-1 from 12-1 for the Betfair Chase at Haydock in three weeks, but Tizzard is also considering a tilt at the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury seven days later. He said: “I know where Bob and Jean (Bishop, owners) would like to go – Haydock for the flat track. But if the handicapper doesn’t put him up, maybe we’ll look at the Hennessy.
A jubilant Brennan said: “He had a massive look at the last (fence), but once he got to the back of it he was away again.”
David Pipe, responsible for the runner-up Dynaste and the close-up third Ballynagour, said: “I’m very pleased with them both. It was a great run from Ballynagour for his first run of the season. Dynaste ran a good race as well. They’re both in the Betfair Chase and the Hennessy.”
Oliver Sherwood’s Grand National hero Many Clouds finished last of the six, but connections were not too despondent. Mick Meagher, racing manager for owner Trevor Hemmings, said: “He jumped the first four like Aintree fences and got tired from the second-last. There are no definite plans for him.”
Last year’s Charlie Hall winner Menorah was pulled up, with connections reporting he was unsuited by the rain-softened ground.