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Haydock report

Before yesterday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock, Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti had met in competition six times.  Their first meeting was in December 2010 in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham when they were whipper-snapper four-year-olds.  Their last before yesterday was in the King George VI Chase at Kempton in December.

In their first three encounters, it was Cue Card who had scooped the pots.  In their next three, it was Silviniaco.  The score in their private head-to-head was 3-3 when the tapes flew at the start of yesterday’s contest and, after three miles of galloping and pacing and jumping and deep-digging, ultimately it was Colin Tizzard’s horse who prevailed once again.

He didn’t just prevail, mind you.  Cue Card went all-in, put his old adversary mercilessly to the sword with a display so fluent that it was difficult not to think that it was up there with his best ever.

The pre-race market wasn’t sure which way to turn.  All week Silviniaco Conti had been favourite for a race that he had won twice in the last three years – you would have struggled to find a bookmaker who would have laid you odds-against – while Cue Card, who won it once, traded freely at 11/4 and 3/1.

In the minutes leading up to the race, however, so often the tell-tale minutes in the formation of a market these days, the confidence behind the Tizzard horse was palpable.  A weight of support forced him into 7/4 as Paul Nicholls’ horse weakened to 5/4.

Noel Fehily called first, set out to make the running from flagfall on Silviniaco Conti as Paddy Brennan tracked him on Cue Card, with Dynaste, Holywell and Ballynagour mere extras as the drama unfolded.  For two and a half miles the two leading players each held their cards close, each in a nice even rhythm over their fences, each rider happy with his horse.

When they straightened up for home, however, it was quickly apparent that it was Brennan who was holding pocket Aces.  He eased Cue Card to the front on the far side at the third last fence as Fehily got into the drive position, popped the second last fence and sauntered into the lead.  In truth, Brennan never really had to get serious with his horse as he coasted to a seven-length win.

“It’s lovely to have him back,” said Tizzard.  “We’ve taken them all on and he’s done it really well.  We’ve had to deal with his problems, and now he’s back to his very best.  The King George is the next stop now, and the Gold Cup is the ultimate race so, if he’s in the form then that he’s in now, why not?”

Bookmakers generally slashed Cue Card’s odds for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day from 14/1 and 16/1 to 4/1 and 5/1, with one firm going as short as 3/1.

“The way he’s done it out there today, he felt like a Gold Cup horse,” said Paddy Brennan, who knows what he is talking about, given that he rode Imperial Commander to win the Gold Cup in 2010.  “It’s great to get back on a good horse.  Today he was awesome.”

© The Sunday Times, 22nd November 2015