Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock Park was billed as race a to savour so early in the 2013-14 British and Irish national hunt season with several of the leading contenders for the March Cheltenham Gold Cup in the line-up. The expected clash between the two heavyweight racing stables of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson never really materialised as Cue Card confounded the experts with an exceptional winning performance.
The three mile contest featured last season’s Gold Cup winner Bobsworth joined by former winner Long Run, who was expected to improve from a poor recent performance at Wetherby. Both are trained by Henderson while Nicholls saddled the enigmatic but gifted Tidal Bay and Silviniaco Conti, who fell three fences from home when travelling well in last season’s Gold Cup.
Young Pretender Dynaste from the David Pipe also joined the field while Cue Card represented Colin Tizzard in the eight horse field. His son Joe was riding a horse who had won the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham festival but was considered a non-stayer after a previous attempt at three miles.
As the race developed, both Bobsworth and Tidal Bay were outpaced by the bold front running tactics adopted by Joe Tizzard on Cue Card, yet the Henderson trained had never lost on a left handed track and had won the 2012 Newbury Hennessy Gold Cup on a similar flat track to Haydock. The remaining horses were similarly unable to cope with the almost flawless jumping of relentless leader.
When Cue Card crossed the line as the comfortable winner, many experts were seeking reasons as to why the big stable horses had not produced their best form. Excuses were offered but credit must also be given to Colin Tizzard for an excellent training performance and defying the many doubters of the horse.
For too many seasons in the jumping season, the Nicholls and Henderson teams, together with several more powerful southern yards, have tended to dominate the more prominent races in the racing calendar with many of the smaller yards unable to compete at the same level.
Not only has Colin Tizzard proved that he can train a horse to a win a top class race over a distance considered longer than ideal, but he has also demonstrated that the recent monopoly of the larger stables can be broken.
Cue Card not only performed with distinction and real touch of class at Haydock but it may have also been a very good result for national hunt racing. Racegoers can now anticipate much greater competition in the top class three mile steeplechases throughout the current campaign.