A weekend that promised so much and delivered plenty.
Cue Card passed the Ascot Chase baton to Waiting Patiently in a thrilling race. Helping to force a frantic early pace, the equine Benjamin Button put in an exhibition of jumping. This proved too much for Top Notch and Coney Island. A series of errors put paid to their chances. Another glorious chapter in the storied career of Cue Card looked set to be written only for Waiting Patiently to loom up menacingly, ultimately going by and winning a shade cosily.
So for the 24th time Cue Card was beaten.
That number is misleading of course. An unfortunate side effect of barely missing a dance this decade. He will likely get beaten for the 25th time at Cheltenham. Connections are rightly targeting the Gold Cup in preference to the Ryanair. On the 8th anniversary of his bumper romp this hero will return in search of a crown jewel rather than a blood diamond.
The post race pictures of him bouncing out of the Ascot parade ring, head proud and ears pricked, were almost as soul stirring as the race itself. As for the winner this was a further step towards the steeplechasing summit. The Festival may not be on the cards, both jockey and trainer suggesting he wouldn’t want ground any quicker than he got on Saturday. Wherever he ends up next, his appearance will be keenly anticipated.
Elsewhere, on Saturday at Haydock, Chef Des Obeaux laid down an Albert Bartlett marker. The improvement in his jumping from Kempton was the most notable aspect of the performance. Foot perfect until possibly losing concentration at the last. His relentless galloping and seemingly bottomless stamina will prove a big asset at Cheltenham. Given his pedigree and action, Spring ground would be a cause for concern. Even so he goes there with a massive chance.
Our Duke surprised me. A blunder three out, coupled with the 7lbs weight concession to Percy, should have proved too much. Showing great resilience he managed to fend off the novice. His season now back on track he looks a live Gold Cup contender. His tendency to throw in the odd jumping howler is a worry but with stamina and tenacity assured he won’t go down easily.
Percy was a touch disappointing to me. Travelling so sweetly, his fencing was a triumph of economy, I expected him to win comfortably. It’s quite likely I just underestimated the Duke though. Last years Pertemps winner must still have every chance of following up in the RSA.
Punting highlight of next weekend looks to be the Racing UK Handicap at Kempton.
Expectant mothers would come up with fewer name changes than this race has had recently but it looks competitive as ever. Go Conquer appeals most. Normally a fine jumper it was a mistake that cost him at Ascot last time. The ground that day seemed more testing than advertised. Spring has sprung recently though and conditions should be ideal on Saturday. Expect a bold jumping, front running display. He will prove difficult to pass.
Also on the card the Adonis Hurdle often produces Triumph Hurdle clues. The entries are a little underwhelming, with one exception. Redician is unbeaten in two runs despite not looking a natural jumper. He will be hard to beat but pay particular attention to his hurdling. A marked improvement in that department would make this very strong traveller a live Festival prospect.
Aidan O’Brien handles the favourite for the Winter Derby at Lingfield. Improving mares are not readily opposed but the 7/2 about Clear Skies looks a little skinny. The 6/1 Utmost looks more than fair. Unexposed after only six runs, he comes here on the back of a career best over course and distance. Futher improvement seems likely. He was well positioned on the front in a slowly run race that day. Saturday seems to set up very favourably too. With little obvious competition for the lead he will prove hard to catch.
Finally to the Eider Chase at Newcastle. The forecast suggests they’ve seen the last of the rain but with the ground currently heavy this race will be an unmerciful slog. Horses who handle these tests are few and far between. Earlier in the season we saw two teenagers fight it out the finish to the Welsh National. With that in mind I think Paddy may have underestimated an old dog for the hard road. Portrait King is a former winner of this race. He has also placed in it. Granted it’s over 3 years since he last won and he’s 13 but his run behind Blaklion in November suggests the flame still flickers. The handicapper has given him a chance and odds of 33/1 make considerable e/w appeal.