Cue Card will clash with stablemates Thistlecrack and Native River in a fascinating Cheltenham Gold Cup but his final prep-race sees the classy 11-year-old race over arguably his best trip in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase on Saturday night.
Live on Sky Racing 1, the 2m5f Ascot Chase is five and a half furlongs shy of the Cheltenham Gold Cup distance which proved ideal for Cue Card when winning the 2013 renewal. Since Cue Card has developed into one of the most popular and high-class chasers in training but despite being now an 11-year-old debate still surrounds his ideal trip.
The veteran chaser has certainly proven versatile at a number of distances in a glorious career of 11 race victories and over a million pounds in prize money. Cue Card finished runner-up to the great two miler Sprinter Sacre in the 2012 Arkle displaying an aptitude for speed but after successfully winning the 2013 Ascot Chase he subsequently tasted Cheltenham Festival glory over the same trip in the Ryanair Chase. A stunning career followed over three mile plus with a win in the 2013 Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock and runner-up to Silviniaco Conti in the King George VI in the same year. He was next to taste success two years later in 2015/2016 season when a win in the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase sparked a golden run of form which saw wins in the King George VI and the Grade 1 Betfred Bowl Chase at Aintree but it was his fall in the Cheltenham Gold Cup which spaked the most intriguing debate. Cue Card had been travelling supremely well, disputing the lead when coming to grief three out and he would undoubtedly had disputed the finish. However that first fall in four years of chasing also left the question of whether he would stay up the famously testing Cheltenham hill unanswered.
Connections are determined for another crack at the Gold Cup but in a race that Native River looks certain to make a gruelling test those staying doubts will still remain until the race itself. The 11-year-old has been in fine form and ran up to his brilliant very best when destroying the former Gold Cup hero Coneygree in a wonderful third victory in the Betfair Chase before a game second to stablemate and Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack in the King George VI on Boxing Day. His proximity to a past his best Silviniaco Conti in third does suggest that was a below-par performance by Cue Card but back to Saturday’s trip it would take a brave person to confidently back against him recreating his 2013 performance.
The opposition simply doesn’t look strong enough with the likely second-favourite being Kerry Lee’s Kylemore Lough. The eight-year-old has stepped up from smart novice form this season with a Grade 2 second to Royal Regatta at Ascot over this trip before a good fifth in the Grade 2 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham. He failed to stay over further behind the ill-fated Many Clouds and Thistlecrack in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase last start and although he’s open to further improvement back at his favoured trip, a defeat of Cue Card is a tough ask.
Kylemore Lough is clearly closely matched with the Philip Hobbs-trained Royal Regatta who has always reserved his best form for Ascot and as always here has to respected as an each-way hope.