Cue Card ready to signal new order in King George
To a degree, the spectres of Christmas past still haunt the King George VI race. Kauto Star himself will lead the parade, after all, so providing his trainer and owner with the opportunity to show festive atonement after their mortifying public row over his new career.
And the retired champion, which won the race for a record fifth time last year, will also have his representatives among those relieved to be jumping off without him.
Long Run, Kauto Star's biggest rival in the evening of his career, has been transformed from usurper to ambassador, while family honour could yet be upheld by his half-brother, Kauto Stone.
But Kempton on St Stephen's Day could also mark the start of a new order in the steeplechasing elite.
Admittedly, one of the most plausible graduates from the novice ranks, Al Ferof, is out for the season after a setback last week. Another, however, retains every right to consummate the potential he first announced by thrashing Al Ferof in the 2010 Champion Bumper.
Cue Card has sometimes seemed to disclose his limitations since. Al Ferof reversed form when they returned to the Cheltenham Festival over hurdles and Cue Card managed to win only two of five chases as a novice.
But it was plainly no disgrace to finish second to the extraordinary Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle Chase, and a runaway win at Exeter on his reappearance has emboldened connections that he has now strengthened sufficiently to discover a new lease of life over three miles.
Not without a degree of healthy debate, however. Every day, his trainer and jockey convene at 6.30 round a Dorset farmhouse table and discuss plans over a cup of coffee.
"It's not just Cue Card," Joe Tizzard said.
"It's the cows, it's what goes in which field, everything goes up for debate. And then dad decides in the end!"
Testing ground will permit Cue Card no hiding place as he explores his stamina, but Tizzard radiates confidence: "I gave him a school last Monday and he's jumping out of his skin.
For Tizzard, the chance to win a race like this for his father would represent the ripening of a precocious talent.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since his teenage emergence, when picked out by Paul Nicholls as the ideal jockey to share his own young ambitions.
At 32, Tizzard can look back on the disillusion that followed with a seasoned detachment – and savour the rewards he has ultimately found in a flourishing family concern.
"It's a dream for us to have Cue Card in our yard," he said.
"That's what we're in it for, to find horses like him. But he's not the only one – we've got some really talented youngsters coming through." (© Independent News Service)