Tizzard tears arrive right on Cue
It might have erred on the fanciful side of hyperbole, but the Racing Post headline, 'This is what makes life worth living', gave a clear nod to the sublime quality of yesterday's first Grade One staying chase in the UK this season. Carlsberg don't do Gold Cups – in November or any other month – but if they did they would have probably picked the very octet that travelled to Britain's north-west (and maybe added Sir Des Champs) for Haydock's Betfair Chase.
Even the most evergreen of racing professionals were scrolling the mental annals to recall a staying chase of such quality anywhere outside the Cotswolds in March, and for those accusing connections of calculatedly sharpening their pencils with only one month of the year in mind then the Pipe, Henderson and Nicholls yards must have all been momentarily duped into some form of temporary time warp.
Two Gold Cup winners; last year's Betfair Chase victor; the Ryanair Chase winner; the Lexus winner; the JN Wines winner and last season's highest-rated staying novice all descended on Haydock and it says something for the calibre of the ruling dynasty that last year's leading novice should be lowest in the ratings – and by quite some way – entering yesterday's fray.
Yet the sophomore Dynaste – tackling his elders for the first time – so nearly pulled it off. Eschewing last week's Paddy Power to face down his seniors here instead, the David Pipe grey found only Cue Card his superior, as that rival produced a career-best effort at a distance over which he was unproven to bring even a grown West Country dairy farmer – his trainer Colin Tizzard – to tears. The trainer's son Joe Tizzard elected to allow Cue Card to flow along in front and the gelding, which had only ever attempted three miles once before (when pulling up in last year's King George), was always travelling and jumping with élan to see off all-comers with a certain ease.
The jockey quipped cheekily afterwards, "We've been running this horse over the wrong trip all along" and consolidated the emotion of the family occasion by verifying that this was "the first time ever I've seen my dad cry".
Father Colin had his own doubts about the decision to step up in trip at Haydock – "Down at Ascot they had a two-horse Grade Two (over a shorter distance) and I was wondering what we were doing up here," he confessed.
Dynaste ran a blinder in defeat – threading his way through the field to challenge at the last, only to lack the firepower of the winner. In truth, the only other horse to appear with a chance was last year's winner Silviniaco Conti.
The Nicholls horse jumped and travelled well before giving way to the front pair on the run to the last fence. It is remarkable that both winner and third opposed one another in their very first novice chase in a minor event at Chepstow in October 2011.
Most striking about yesterday's result is the way in which it disadvantaged the stamina-laden – Tidal Bay, Long Run and Bobs Worth all struggled at different stages in spite of the elongation of the race distance by an extra furlong. Favourite and Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth forfeited his unbeaten record racing left-handed with an especially laboured display.
Trainer Nicky Henderson opined that his reigning champion had been "taken out of his comfort zone" and reflected that he was "always frightened that this track would undo him". Indeed the only surprise was that a horse for whom limitless stamina and supreme battling qualities are the hallmark should have been sent off such a short-priced favourite at such a flat, sharp park course. Henderson intimated Bobs Worth could be seen in the Lexus at Leopardstown next time.
The first three home – all seven year olds – should re-oppose again at another track liable to play to their strengths – Kempton – in the King George. There, they will be joined by Al Ferof, winner of the farcical (aforementioned) two-runner Grade Two Amlin Chase down at Ascot after a one-year absence from the track.
Cue Card and Al Ferof have an old score to settle as they each have a major Cheltenham Festival triumph recorded one over the other. Cue Card demolished Al Ferof in the Festival Bumper before his grey rival exacted revenge the following year in the Supreme Novices. Hindsight is 20/20 but what a richly talented lot the class of 2011 were – as well as Al Ferof and Cue Card the other horses to fill the frame were Spirit Son (subsequently sidelined through injury after a spectacular Aintree display) and Sprinter Sacre (no less), which has won just the 10 consecutive races since and reappears in a fortnight in the Tingle Creek.
All in all then, for a race worthy of the pinnacle of the season, it is inspiring to muse after yesterday that it is really only just beginning.