Tizzard puts Card on Cue for Sprinter showdown
The gauntlet that was left lying on the ground at Cheltenham is to be picked up at Aintree by impressive Ryanair Chase winner Cue Card.
Cue Card sidestepped a meeting with Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother two weeks ago, instead winning the longer Ryanair Chase the following afternoon. But trainer Colin Tizzard committed his stable star to the Melling Chase on Friday week, setting up an intriguing clash of two Festival champions.
Sprinter Sacre is unbeaten in eight over fences and the highest-rated jumper in training and on the two occasions he and Cue Card have met previously – most recently as novices in last year's Arkle trophy – he was the master. But next week he will step out of his proven distance comfort zone for the first time, and into his rival's.
It is a move that has been successful in the past; the double was completed by his Nicky Henderson stablemate Finians Rainbow 12 months ago and by another two-miler, Moscow Flyer, in 2005. But five years ago Master Minded, equally impressive as Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham, found the two and a half miles of the Aintree Grade One contest beyond him.
Tizzard is under no illusions about the task facing Cue Card, which romped home by seven lengths in the Ryanair, but relishes the chance for revenge and came up with some fighting reasoning, saying: "We are entitled to think we have the best two and a half miler after his last two performances," he said, "but I have no reason to doubt that Sprinter Sacre will get the trip.
"We got within seven lengths of him in the Arkle, but I feel we have a much better horse this year. Sprinter Sacre hasn't had a hard race since then and we don't know if he is better... he hasn't been fully tested."
Cue Card's place in the Melling Chase field was decided after a sparkling display on Tizzard's gallops. "He did some fast work and he couldn't be in better form," said the trainer.
"I'd say Cheltenham was one of his best performances. He had that one blip in the King George, but I don't think he was quite on song; horses are not machines. But he's been top class in his three other performances this season and has been as good as nearly everything else racing."
One of Ireland's best, Flemenstar, is also likely to be in the mix next week. "It's shaping to be a very good race," added Tizzard. "We've avoided Sprinter Sacre once, but this is our trip."