Right on Cue - who to look out for this week at Cheltenham
Cue Card can make it an emotional and lucrative afternoon on Friday by landing the 2016 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Colin Tizzard-trained gelding has already enjoyed a tremendous season, winning both the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
A victory in the Gold Cup would mean that connections of the horse would collect a £1 million bonus.
The Gold Cup alone is worth £327,462 to the winner, so there is a great deal at stake in financial terms.
If Cue Card is successful, the £1-million bonus would be split £650,000 to Cue Card’s owner, Jean Bishop, £150,000 to his trainer, Colin Tizzard, £100,000 to the jockey, Paddy Brennan, and £100,000 divided between stable staff at the Tizzards’ racing operation on the Somerset/Dorset border.
On an entirely different level, all those connected with the horse will be wanting to win in the memory of former owner Bob Bishop, who died a few days after that King George triumph.
Taking sentiment away from the equation, Cue Card has excellent credentials.
He has looked at the peak of his powers this season and his form has taken a decided upward curve after a successful wind operation.
Past Festival form has always to be taken into account and Cue Card certainly ticks all the right boxes on that score.
He won the Champion Bumper in 2010 and the Ryanair Chase in 2013 - in addition, he was fourth in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle (2011) and second in the Racing Post Arkle Novices Chase (2012).
There were 14 horses left in the Gold Cup at the penultimate forfeit stage, six of them from the powerful Willie Mullins team, though one of them Vautour has been confirmed a non-starter already.
Vautour, second to Cue Card in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, will run in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, instead.
Mullins has yet to win the Gold Cup, but his entry for this year’s renewal includes Djakadam and the impressive 2015 RSA Chase winner Don Poli.
Ireland’s champion jumps trainer could also be represented by Valseur Lido, who unseated Ruby Walsh when leading at the final fence in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 6, plus Sir Des Champs and On His Own, who were second in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Of this sextet, Don Poli looks the best alternative to Cue Card.
He has been denigrated by some who have given him the nickname ‘Don Slowly’ for his apparent lack of pace, but he is likely to be doing his best work up the Cheltenham hill and looks an out-and-out stayer.
Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott, is top-class, but does have jumping issues.
*Vautour’s owner Rich Ricci has confirmed the seven-year-old will line up in the extended two-and-a-half-mile event after failing to really impress in his recent work.
While trainer Willie Mullins has been happier with his form of late, connections feel it best to bypass Friday’s feature, in which they also have Djakadam to run in the Ricci colours.
Ricci said : “We’ve said in recent weeks that he hasn’t been pulling up trees in his work, but he’s been working better lately.
“We’ve decided now to run him in the Ryanair.
“I know we talked about whether he would go for the Gold Cup, that’s been our intention all year, but it’s a very a difficult race and if he’s only 90 per cent right, then we don’t want to ruin the horse.
“We feel the Ryanair is the best alternative. It’s not ideal but it’s still a great race, it’s a Grade One.”
The meeting opens today with the Stan James Champion Hurdle and in the absence of the injured Faugheen, it is a wide-open contest with little to split the leading protagonists.
In his absence, Nichols Canyon is the choice.
He is consistent, can lie up in a good gallop, and another pointer in his favour is that on one notable occasion this season, he claimed the scalp of stable companion Faugheen, one of the shocks of the Irish racing season.
Of the others Lil Rockerfeller looks a shade over-priced.
His win in the National Spirit Trophy at Fontwell should not be under-estimated and such was the manner of his success at the Sussex track that connections decided to fork out £20,000 of their prize money to supplement the horse for the Champion.
Lil Rockerfeller could well sneak a place..
Douvan looks an Irish banker in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy today and on all known form he should win - and in some comfort, barring accident.
It is not a punter’s race, but an alternative is to back the Venetia Williams-trained Aso in any market that bets without the favourite.
Holywell, a class act on his day, has dropped to a workable mark in today’s Ultima Handicap Chase.
Jonjo O’Neill seems to reserve his best form for the spring and has form at the track.