We’ve been spoilt this jumps season with nine of the top 12 in the betting for the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup already making an appearance at this relatively early point in the campaign.
And last weekend, the excitement towards some of the biggest prizes around continued to heat up with action at Ascot and Haydock particularly playing a big part in the narrative.
On five occasions, four of those being at the hands (or hooves) of the great Kauto Star, has the winner of the Betfair Chase gone on to take the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day that same year.
You cannot, therefore, blame connections of Cue Card for dreaming of success at Kempton after their popular chaser confirmed that he is back to his best when storming clear at Haydock on Saturday.
The nose-banded nine-year-old was following up his victory in the Charlie Hall Chase to secure back-to-back wins in over two-and-a-half years.
The 2013 winner of the three mile contest fizzled out when running a stormer in the King George that time, but with various ailments subsequently treated, another crack looks to be on the cards.
Ladbrokes responded positively to his seven length success, cutting him to 5/1 (from 10/1) for the Christmas cracker, before sustained support forced his price in once again, to leave the current offering of 9/2.
Colin Tizzard’s charge is a 12/1 shot (from 20/1) for the final leg of the newly created ‘Triple Crown’ with £1m on offer if Cue Card can complete the hat-trick.
Labouring home in second on Merseyside was last year’s winner of both that race and the King George, Silviniaco Conti.
Despite jumping the third-last alongside the eventual winner, Noel Fehily’s mount found precious little in the closing stages to fade badly.
Ladbrokes reacted by pushing Paul Nicholls’ gelding out from 6/1 to 12/1, though with two wins in the prestigious Grade 1 to his name, it is hard to completely rule him out.
It won’t just be horses from the UK that Cue Card will need to fend off though, as Vautour returned for the season with a win in the Stella Artois 1965 Chase at Ascot.
Sent off a 2/5 chance, Willie Mullins’ charge wasn’t as decisive as many would have banked on, jumping to his left on numerous occasions in Berkshire.
Receiving 5lbs in weight from runner-up Ptit Zig, you would have expected March’s spectacular JLT Novices’ Chase victim to really press on, but Ruby Walsh was made to work for success.
His trainer suggested he was would come on for the run, which could be offered up as a reason as to why the winning distance was ‘only’ 1¾ lengths.
After the race the six-year-old was trimmed for the Gold Cup (7/2 from 4/1) and the King George (2/1 from 9/4), though the support for Cue Card saw his price for the latter pushed out to 5/2.
The Festival is a long way away, but the staying chase division looks as good as it ever has, and Cheltenham, as well as Kempton before it, could deliver some of the best races of a generation.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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