It was a case of what might have been with Cue Card in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season. The horse begins another campaign with the ultimate goal of winning the Blue Riband of chasing next March in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday. The horse looks short enough at odds-on and Irish Cavalier is the each-way alternative at a working man’s price but there are some wide differences of opinion with bookmakers about his chances.
Coneygree was the second favourite earlier this week but does not run. The winner of the Gold Cup in 2015 has not been on the track for almost a year and is being saved for a race on more suitable ground. Ahead of the overnight declarations there were at least eight intended runners so place terms of one fifth the odds for the first three which makes Irish Cavalier at a best price 16/1 (as short as 10/1) a good bet to make the payout places. Often there are late withdrawals so there could be just seven runners and only two places. In any case there could be money for the horse before post time, especially if there is no confidence in Cue Card at 4/6.
The Charlie Hall Chase looks about the best race of the jumps season to date and there is interest throughout the field. Blaklion won the RSA Chase at the festival last season, Dynaste and Menorah have won at the highest level and The Last Samuri looked all over the winner of the Grand National in April but was collared on the run-in by Rule The World. Sausalito Sunrise is no mug and is the outsider while Virak should not be dismissed. Cue Card needs to hit the ground running in his first start of the season to win this race.
The Wetherby contest, sponsored by bet365, is a Grade 2 event for horses aged five and older. The distance is three miles and one furlong and there are 18 fences. The race is often the starting point for the best chasers and previous winners include See More Business, Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card who won the race last year. Ollie Magern, See More Business and One Man are the only dual winners since 1996 so Cue Card would be joining an elite group if prevailing on Saturday. The Charlie Hall Chase is a conditions race and not a handicap.
Cue Card has to be the form pick as the highest rated chaser in Britain and only Don Cossack has a higher rating in the UK and Ireland. Cue Card won the Betfair Chase and King George last season so was chasing a £1million bonus in the Gold Cup. Cue Card was going well when falling three out and Dom Cossack went on to win. The subsequent run at Aintree suggested he would have gone very close at Cheltenham but we will never know. The day Cue Card and Thistecrack appear in the same chase will be something to savour but it might not happen before next March.
Blaklion was one of the leading novice chasers last season and is now racing experienced horses for the first time. It is difficult to step up from novice to senior company and Blaklion will need to be some horse to win this race but does get an allowance of five pounds over Cue Card. Dynaste and Menorah are past their best which means Irish Cavalier can run into a place but winning the race looks beyond the horse.
Irish Cavalier is rated 16 pounds below Cue Card and carries just four pounds less so cannot win this race on the figures. However, Cue Card has not run for 185 days while Irish Cavalier had a spin in a race less than three weeks ago. That run at Chepstow was no more than promising but still a good basis for a successful season. Irish Cavalier was an impressive winner at Punchestown in April and although not in the class of Cue Card can beat most of the other horses in the race at Wetherby.
Cue Card seems to have been around for ages and won the Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010. His career could come full circle in the Gold Cup there next March so Wetherby at the end of October is a stepping stone and he looks vulnerable but in any case Irish Cavalier is the each-way pick.