Will Cue Card get his just desserts?
It’s often overlooked in Ireland just what an underrated gem of a racehorse Cue Card actually is.
Today he makes his sixth visit to the festival with a live opportunity to add the Gold Cup to his victories in the Bumper in 2010 and in the Ryanair three years later. Easily the most popular horse in Britain, if he pulls it off there will be as noisy and emotional a reception in the parade ring as the one given to Sprinter Sacre last year.
He will fully deserve all the kudos he gets, especially considering the poor luck he had in the race last year when he tipped over at the third last.
Now 11, he will have to buck history to win today as no horse over the age of 10 has been successful since What A Myth in 1969, but his trainer, Colin Tizzard, has shown remarkable skill in preserving his longevity. Not fully right when he was beaten in the King George by Thistlecrack, he looked as good as ever when winning at Ascot since and could bring real colour to a grey looking Gold Cup.
Small trainer, big chance?
Around this time last year trainer Barry John Murphy was biting his nails waiting for the final declarations to be made for the Novice Handicap Chase. The son of the legendary trainer Ferdy, Murphy had recently set up on his own near Enniscorthy in Wexford and a Cheltenham victory would do no harm to his ambition to succeed in his business.
His stable star Pairofbrowneyes, had won a good chase at Limerick at Christmas and was primed and ready to go to for a follow up at the festival.
Unfortunately for his connections his allocated weight proved too low to get him into the race and the big dreams of a small trainer temporarily evaporated.
A year on and there is better news. Pairofbrowneyes will take his chance in the festival finale, the Grand Annual Handicap Chase over two miles. The horse is almost as well-bred for his job as his trainer. His dam is a sister to the brilliant chaser Sound Man and a victory today would be a joyous conclusion for Murphy and the festival.
One of the more empowering stories to emerge in Irish racing this winter has been the growing success of Rachael Blackmore as a professional National Hunt jockey.
Unlike Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh who remained amateur, Blackmore, 27, took the plunge into the paid ranks and is making her mark in an overwhelmingly male dominated trade.
She is as strong in her opinions as she is in a finish and is unimpressed that as she is not eligible to ride in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle this afternoon. “Under the rules of British racing a conditional jockey must be aged over 16 but under 26 years,” she wrote, “and I am being discriminated against because of that which I think is very unfair.”
The race will be poorer for her absence.
Born from the expansion to a four-day festival there are many who strongly feel a conditional jockeys’ race should be let nowhere near the festival, but for young riders it is a thrilling stepping stone in their careers and has been previously won by the likes for Emmet Mullin, Mikey Fogarty and Luke Dempsey.
The week eventually had a happy ending for Blackmore. She picked up her treasured first festival ride on Linger for Shark Hanlon in Wednesdays Fred Winter Hurdle. She pulled him up when his chance was gone but gets another crack of the whip on Ex Patriot in today’s Triumph Hurdle.