When Cue Card landed the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March 2010, the golden seasons among staying chasers that had been dominated by Kauto Star and Denman were beginning to draw to a close.
Following on from two of National Hunt’s all-time greats was always going to be a difficult role to execute, but Cue Card did so with a flourish. He was, by some way, the most popular chaser of recent seasons, as well as being one of the most talented and durable, and the only disappointment following the news of his well-earned retirement was that Colin Tizzard’s 12-year-old would not get a chance to remove the concluding “P” from his form figures after his disappointing run in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month.
Cue Card will still be at Sandown on Saturday week on the final day of the National Hunt season, when he will parade for the fans rather than line up one last time in the Oaksey Chase.
“He wasn’t working quite as well as he can and we didn’t want to take him to Sandown if we weren’t 100% happy with him,” Joe Tizzard, the trainer’s son and also Cue Card’s jockey during the first four years of his career, said on Tuesday. “We will still take him to Sandown, to celebrate a great career. He has been an incredible horse for us and now he can look forward to a new chapter in his life.”
Cue Card retires with nine Grade One wins on his record, stretching from his Bumper win at Cheltenham at odds of 40-1 to the Betfair Ascot Chase in February 2017. But it was not so much his record as the way he went about compiling it that endeared him so thoroughly to racing fans. Cue Card loved to bowl along towards the head of the field, where his usually impeccable jumping would force his opponents to match him, or risk giving up ground that could prove essential in the closing stages.
Cue Card had the bounce-back factor too, after a fallow period for much of 2014 and 2015 that followed a pelvic injury and then a wind operation. And at a time when National Hunt racing was increasingly becoming dominated by multi-millionaires with many dozens of horses, Jean Bishop and her late husband Bob, who died just days after Cue Card’s memorable defeat of Vautour in the 2015 King George VI Chase at Kempton, were a throwback to a time when winning was not everything.
Cue Card’s first win in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, in 2013, summed up his appeal. He was sent off at 9-1 to beat an outstanding field that included the previous Grade One chase winners Silviniaco Conti, Long Run and Bobs Worth, but Tizzard and Cue Card were undaunted and took the race to their rivals in familiar style. Cue Card had the race won two out, and stayed on strongly to win by nearly five lengths.
Cue Card’s last win came in that Ascot Chase, though a close second place in the same race this year offered hope that he might yet claim a Gold Cup at Cheltenham. It was not to be and he was pulled up before the 12th, but Cue Card may still receive a warmer reception than some of the winners at Sandown on Saturday week.
“I think his longevity made him stand out,” Bishop said. “Even after his fall [in 2016], he went back to win at Aintree. For a few seasons he was the highest-rated chaser in Britain. Look how hard it is for Gold Cup winners to come back the following season. He might not have won the Gold Cup, but he kept coming back.”
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