Colin Tizzard has one-in-a-million Cue Card building up for Cheltenham
Published 13/01/2016 | 18:26
Colin Tizzard has just started to step Cue Card's regime up a gear as the 10-year-old prepares to bid for a £1million bonus in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Entries were released on Wednesday for the blue riband, backed by technology firm Timico for the first time, with Willie Mullins dominating the landscape.
Ireland's champion trainer has eight of the 32 possibles, including last year's runner-up Djakadam, with last season's RSA winner Don Poli a very strong second-string, according to the bookmakers.
While plenty of water needs to pass under the bridge before the race, King George second Vautour, a winner at the last two Festivals, is also in the mix along with Sir Des Champs, the 2013 Gold Cup runner-up.
Boston Bob, Valseur Lido, 2014 runner-up On His Own and Ballycasey could also line up for Mullins.
But standing in his way is a rejuvenated Cue Card, who showed he was no back number when winning the Charlie Hall on his reappearance and took his form to a new level when slamming Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase and reeling in Vautour at Kempton.
Those two races form the first two legs of the bonus on offer from Jockey Club Racecourses if he can top it off in the Gold Cup
"You don't want to be dawdling around with them now, a couple of frosty weeks and suddenly we are there," said Tizzard on At The Races.
"His work will be building up now, he'll be going faster, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, he'll go back doing that now, we'll up the pace, rather than do more (work).
"He likes his routine, if I can hold my nerve and keep to the routine he'll be fine.
"We all thought last year there was something bothering him and he wasn't the horse he is this year.
"People thought he had gone but whatever it is this year - the wind op, but he'd had that before his last two runs last season, so it wasn't immediate action - he's come back in a healthier horse this year.
"It's brilliant he's come back as a 10-year-old as good as he is."
As well as the Mullins army Gordon Elliott's Don Cossack is also a huge threat for Ireland. He fell two out in the King George when staying on strongly and runs in the Kinloch Brae at Thurles on Thursday.
Two interesting novices have been given the option - the Elliott-trained No More Heroes and Sandy Thomson's Seeyouatmidnight - but Jonjo O'Neill decided against entering More Of That.
"We have decided to keep to the novice route," said O'Neill in the Gloucestershire Echo.
"Weighing up the options and looking at the Gold Cup entries, it looked the best way to go at this stage.
"We have the JLT or the RSA in mind for More Of That and we are looking to give him another run before then. He's 100 per cent."
Road To Riches, third last March for Noel Meade, is another from Ireland to get excited about.
"I could not be happier with Road To Riches," said Meade.
"We had a bit of a blood disorder and snotty nose with him at Christmas, but all is well now and the plan is to go to Leopardstown for the Irish (Hennessy) Gold Cup (February 6).
"I felt last year that we tried to put it up to Coneygree and then Djakadam came and got us as we faded on the run-in.
"I think Djakadam will improve because he was a young horse last year."
Meade could also run Wounded Warrior, third in the RSA last March.
Hennessy winner Smad Place, O'Faolains Boy, Holywell, Grand National hero Many Clouds and 2014 Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere, who is recovering from a setback, also in the shake-up - as are Carlingford Lough and the long-absent Morning Assembly.
Such is the strength of the Irish challenge Coral offer only 1-7 that the prize heads that way, with Paddy Power a slightly more enticing 1-4.
"With six of the first seven in our betting trained across the Irish Sea, it's long odds-on this season's Timico Gold Cup is set for export, with Willie Mullins in particular holding a typically strong looking hand as he bids to win the race for a first time," said Coral's David Stevens.