Just two years previously Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card were considered as prime contenders to win their respective races at the Kempton Park Christmas horse racing festival. Unfortunately the former failed to finish after being dismounted when suffering a heart problem while Cue Card was perceived as a non-stayer when overtaken by Silviniaco Conti in the closing stages of the three mile King George VI Chase. Fast forward to the same meeting in 2015 and it was quite a different story for the two horses.
Cue Card has been plagued by health and injury problems since that day in 2013 when he just floundered with the race at his mercy at Kempton. He had been dismissed as horse more capable of winning at 2 miles 4 furlongs but his victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock during November suggested that he could still win flat three mile ‘chases and that the King George on Boxing Day would be the ultimate test of his recovery from adversity. Trainer Colin Tizzard had asserted that the breathing problems of Cue Card had been cured and that he was a more relaxed animal, but Irish challengers Don Cossack and Vautour were viewed as serious opponents in an eagerly awaited contest.
In underfoot conditions described as good to soft, Vautour led the field approaching four fences from home and was travelling ominously easily with Don Cossack seemingly struggling to cope with the sharp and fast Kempton circuit. Yet as the horses rounded the final bend, Vautour was pressurised for the first time but failed to find a meaningful response as Cue Card finished the stronger horse, unlike with his effort in the same race in 2013. A possible tilt at the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup now awaits the Colin Tizzard trained horse but that race constitutes a much more demanding course and distance.
For Sprinter Sacre, an appearance at the Desert Orchid Chase over two miles on Sunday was considered an achievement given his well-documented health problems. Yet in his previous race, there were signs of the old panache returning when winning comfortably at Cheltenham. Sire De Grugy, another former two mile champion chaser, was considered one of the main dangers to the Nicky Henderson trained gelding and so it proved as the horses approached the final fence. Sprinter Sacre produced marginally the better jump and was able to withstand the late effort of his challenger.
It was not a spectacular performance by Sprinter Sacre but on a course now considered unsuitable for the former two mile champion, it was more of a workmanlike effort but also proof that the horse is entitled to be seriously respected when he attempts to regain his title at Cheltenham in March.
Both horses are unlikely to race again before the Cheltenham Festival but victories by either at the meeting will be regarded as the pinnacle of fine training performances in overcoming career threatening problems.
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