CUE Card claimed Grade One honours for the second time in his career after a mistake at the penultimate fence cost Captain Chris any chance in the Betfair Ascot Chase.
Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card was reckless himself on occasion, surviving a couple of errors in the course of the extended two miles and five furlongs but his boundless enthusiasm and the cruising speed which won him a Cheltenham Champion Bumper enabled him to stay in the hunt.
King George runner-up Captain Chris had drawn alongside by the home straight but lost valuable ground when taking off too early at the second-last fence and the 15-8 favourite was able to finish six lengths clear.
Tizzard’s son Joe, Cue Card’s jockey, believed he had matters in hand and the pair can head to the Cheltenham Festival full of confidence – where the trainer hinted he would be likely to contest the Ryanair Chase unless red-hot favourite Sprinter Sacre failed to appear in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
“Joe thought he had two or three more gears, maybe that’s just him talking,’’ said Colin Tizzard about circumstances at the second last.
“He’s a very good horse. He ran well in the King George (fifth), but I wasn’t sure he was quite himself that day, even though I couldn’t find anything wrong.
“I expect we’ll leave a decision (about Cheltenham) nearer the time. If Sprinter Sacre wasn’t in the Queen Mother, that would be very tempting, but if Sprinter Sacre’s there on his A-game, I’d imagine we’ll go the other way.’’ Richard Johnson said of Captain Chris: “I think it would have been very close. I don’t know what Joe was thinking, but I thought we were going as well as him.
‘‘He can be too brave sometimes but he has still run well.
Hopefully we’ll get better ground at Cheltenham and I’d like to ride him in the Gold Cup.’’ Rocky Creek’s season may have reached its pinnacle after he made fairly hard work of beating Houblon Des Obeaux in the Sodexo Prestige Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase.
Trainer Paul Nicholls may be cautious with the 8-13 favourite, who competed a hat-trick over fences in a Grade Two event marred by jumping errors from each of his four rivals.
Jockey Ruby Walsh said: “He’s probably a better horse going the other way (lefthanded).
He jumped a bit to the left and I was in front about an hour and a half too soon.’’ Speaking from Wincanton, Nicholls added: “I’m not totally convinced about Cheltenham.
We haven’t got a plan for him as such and I need to talk to Ruby.
“I’m not in a mega rush with him and like Silviniaco Conti I think he could be next year’s horse, when we would maybe look at the Hennessy.’’ Nicholls’ Far West (8-13 favourite) completed his preparations for the Triumph Hurdle when coming out on top in what was essentially a sprint against River Maigue for the Ironspine Charity Challenge National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle.
“That was just what we wanted and we can now put the finishing touches on before the Triumph,’’ said Nicholls’ assistant Dan Skelton.
The reborn Vino Griego (11-4 favourite) initiated a memorable cross-country double for trainer Gary Moore ahead of Well Refreshed’s Haydock success in surprisingly assured fashion in the Weatherbys Hamilton Insurance Chase, having only recently scored over fences for the first time after 17 previous attempts.
“We’re not training him differently, we’re maybe riding him a bit differently, but his whole attitude has changed,’’ said Gary Moore.
“He’s looking like the horse we always thought he could be. We’ll look at the novice handicap chase at Cheltenham (Pulteney Land Investments), if he qualifies.’’