After the heart-warming success of Sprinter Sacre on Wednesday, Cue Card landing a £1 million bonus in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup is surely too much to ask for.
Trained by the affable Colin Tizzard, ably assisted by his former jockey son Joe, and ridden by Paddy Brennan, he is carrying plenty of goodwill.
Having won the Champion Bumper as a four-year-old and the Ryanair at seven, symmetry suggests he is due another Festival win at the age of 10.
His task was seemingly slightly eased as last year’s champion, Coneygree, is missing through injury, while Vautour was rerouted to the Ryanair Chase, but the likes of Don Cossack, Don Poli, Smad Place and last year’s runner-up Djakadam still oppose.
Winner of the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the King George, Cue Card is in line for a £1m windfall if he can bring up the big-race hat-trick.
“Cue Card’s three wins this season have put paid to all the doubts about his stamina. For the last two years, we have not got to Cheltenham with him,” said Tizzard.
“Last year, about three weeks before Cheltenham, he could not get up the gallop. One day he was fine, the next day he wasn’t. He had a trapped epiglottis – it was like having a golf ball trapped in his throat.
“[After his operation] he came back in this season, looking a million dollars and, from the first time we ran him, he has just been very good.
“He is absolutely brilliant at the moment and is the horse of a lifetime. If I could win the Gold Cup, it would be the pinnacle of training – it would last forever. The money is fantastic and a lovely idea for the stable staff, the owners and everybody else. Money goes, doesn’t it – I can pay off part of my mortgage and it will be gone.
“The Gold Cup is the best race – it may not be the biggest, the Grand National is, but for me it is the best.”
Despite his dominance of National Hunt racing in recent seasons, Willie Mullins has still to win a Gold Cup, but he came close last year with Djakadam, who is back again.
However, his preparation has not been ideal as he fell in January and needed stitches.
“I must compliment the vet in Cheltenham for the work on Djakadam’s stitches,” said Mullins. “We were lucky the cut was on his chest because we were able to keep him walking. He probably missed 10 days before he was starting back to trot, but he would have had a week off anyhow. He is basically a good jumper.”
Mullins also saddles Don Poli, winner of the Lexus Chase this season.
“He’s obviously not the fastest horse in the world, but last year he appeared at the front at the fourth-last and Bryan [Cooper, his jockey] never dreamt he’d have enough speed to do that,” said Mullins.
“When you want him to go, he just shoots to the front and I think an extra two and a half furlongs should be exactly what he wants.”
Cooper has, however, deserted Don Poli in favour of Don Cossack, a late faller in the King George but the apple of trainer Gordon Elliott’s eye.
“He’s a good-looking horse that does everything well. He hasn’t done too much wrong for the last couple of years, apart from falling in the King George and finishing third in the Ryanair, those are the only two times he’s been beat in two seasons,” said Elliott. “The more the ground dries out for the Gold Cup, the better chance he has.”
John Kiely’s Carlingford Lough has won the last two Irish Gold Cups but was well beaten in this on soft ground last year. Kiely’s wife Marian reported that the horse had been going well: “He ideally wants good ground, but not fast ground.”
1.30 Sceau Royal
2.50 Barters Hill
3.30 Cue Card (nap)
4.10 Paint The Clouds
5.30 Next Sensation
1.15 Mighty Zip
1.45 Silver Quay
3.45 Mossy’s Lodge
4.25 North Creek
2.35 Bon Chic
3.55 Boss Des Mottes
4.35 Wings Attract
5.10 Vent Nivernais
7.40 Magical Path
8.10 Little Big Man