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There are about 14,000 racehorses in training in Britain at any one time, but few have been taken to the heart of the nation in the same way that Cue Card has. Purchased for €52,000 in 2009, he picked up close to £1,500,000 over the course of a career that spanned eight years. A last hurrah had been planned for Sandown on the 28th of April, but having not pleased connections in his recent work, the decision was made to retire him.
The winner of three Betfair Chases, a King George plus a Ryanair and Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival, he scored nine times at the highest level. Four incompletions in his final thirteen races compared to just a single one in his first twenty-eight had seen pressure on social media to call it a day. Arguably he has not quite been the same horse in recent seasons, but the level of form he was able to show even in his final season has always made him a serious contender wherever he has gone. He failed to get his head in front, in this, his last campaign of racing, but a second to Waiting Patiently at Ascot in February was only ten pounds shy of his career best, an incredible achievement for the twelve-year-old.
He kicked off his career with a fluent win at Fontwell. It was an impressive display, but it wasn’t enough to see him considered by many just seven weeks later at the Cheltenham Festival. That Wednesday was a day full of surprises, Master Minded was thrashed in his bid for a third straight Champion Chase, Punchestowns had failed to justify favouritism in the RSA as had Rite Of Passage in the Neptune. Having been informed on track that Thomas Mullins had the bumper winner in Tavern Times, it was no surprise by that point that it was another winner for the bookies as Cue Card absolutely bolted up at 40/1 to close out the card. The way he cut through the field like a hot knife through butter gave promise of what was to come.
Things would not go so smoothly for him at the Festivals immediately afterwards, turned over as favourite for the Supreme in 2011, the winner Al Ferof turned the bumper form from the previous season round by fifteen lengths. He spent most of his novice chase season over two and a half miles, stepping back to the minimum trip at the Festival to finish second to a certain Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle. The December of that year saw him take his first trip to the King George, a long fifth to Long Run, he looked a non-stayer. He dotted up in the Ryanair that spring before once more finding Sprinter Sacre too strong, on this occasion at Aintree.
Issues would plague his next two campaigns, his first Betfair Chase win came at the expense of Silviniaco Conti, Paul Nicholls charge getting his revenge on Boxing Day in no uncertain fashion. A pelvic fracture and then a trapped epiglottis saw Cue Card go almost two years before he got his head back in front. A second Betfair Chase would follow that Charlie Hall victory, before a return to Kempton at Christmas finally yielded a success at the fourth attempt in a King George. The race that would finally see him get long overdue recognition as one of the finest of his generation.
The King George has a long reputation as an emotional contest. In 1990 Desert Orchid ensured there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, becoming the oldest winner of the race for more than half a century, Kauto Star’s fifth win in 2011 eliciting a similar response. There have been few better finishes to the race than Cue Card’s 2015 triumph. As a contest, it looked over bar the shouting as Vautour – having tanked to the lead early on the second circuit – had them all off the bridle turning in. Don Cossack saw his challenge end at the second last, having just moved past Cue Card, crumpling on landing. Vautour finally had to be asked a question at the last, getting away from the fence quicker, pulling out a seemingly unassailable two-length lead entering the final hundred yards. Cue Card was not to be denied, however, putting his nosebanded head down, he closed inch by inch, nailing his opponent on the line. One of the most pulsating finishes of the race, even watching the replay now, knowing full well what transpires still gives goosebumps.
A fall when tanking in the Gold Cup was swiftly cast aside with a dominant Bowl win at Aintree, before lifting a third Betfair that autumn back at Haydock. His last seasons were not always the most consistent, his final win coming at Ascot in the February of 2017 was him at his imperious best. He was just one of those horses, one couldn’t help but smile on the days when he put it all together. Just how well he stacks up in the pantheon of greats is, of course, open to personal opinion. Officially 176 rated in his pomp, he comes up short of the absolute best, but his longevity in a world of quick fixes and instant gratification has to be admired and applauded. He has been a pleasure to watch as a fan of the sport, we wish him a long and happy retirement.