Cheltenham 2016 betting tips: Cue Card, Vautour and Gold Cup odds

Colin Tizzard’s eyes on the big prize - the Gold Cup - at Cheltenham Festival this week

Sportsbeat
By Sportsbeat

Colin Tizzard is in good form. That much is confirmed by Joe, the ex-jockey son of this farmer turned trainer of the leading British hope in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

But it is more than the prospect of Tizzard’s cherished gelding, Cue Card, leading home the field in jump racing’s blue riband event that has a hungry media pack descending on the tiny Dorset village of Milborne Port.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2016: Enhanced odds

Don Cossack to win – 14/1

Djakadam to win – 16/1

Cue Card to win – 16/1

Last October, in honour of the late, great chaser, Kauto Star, the Jockey Club introduced The Chase Triple Crown. Any horse able to emulate Kauto’s 2006/2007 feat of coming home first in Haydock Park’s Betfair Chase, the Boxing Day showpiece King George VI Chase at Kempton Park and, finally, the 92-year-old Gold Cup, would land his connections a £1m bonus.

Cue Card promptly blew away his rivals at Haydock in November. One month later the 10-year-old stayer hit the front at Kempton when it mattered most – right on the line, to edge out Vautour.

Fast forward to a crisp, sunlit February morning, three weeks before the big day, and the occasionally taciturn Tizzard is enthusiastically holding court at his new Spurles Farm stables. It is his move to this remote setting last September that the 60-year-old credits with Cue Card’s renaissance – and his own arrival as a serious player on the training scene.

“We wanted to get away from people saying I’m a farmer who trains a few horses,” says Tizzard, whose 700 whose dairy cows have stayed at Venn Farm, his former stable.

“Now we’ve made a statement. I’m a trainer who has another business. That’s fantastic, because training race horses is a fickle job. You’re either on the way up or on the way down.”

Tizzard is on the way up. He will have 14 live contenders at Cheltenham, the four day racing extravaganza that jump racing aficionados anticipate with all the zeal of a child waiting for Christmas.

Listening to Tizzard, in his clipped West Country burr, candidly discuss his own excitement, his nerves, his future and ‘the horse of a lifetime’, there is no mistaking how much victory on March 18 would mean.

It is remarkable to consider, then, that there was once a time when dad believed that, by now, he would have ridden off into the sunset, leaving the business in Joe’s capable hands.

Talking in February 2012 Colin said: “Joe is still primarily a jockey but he’s looking to take over from me, getting ready for the next stage in his life.

“But I can’t see me retiring for a few years yet and I can’t see him stopping riding. Four years from now, I’ll be 60. Maybe that will be the time to let go.”

At that time Joe had already ridden Cue Card to Cheltenham Festival glory. In 2010 he was in the saddle as the horse made light of his 40/1 starting price to win the Champion Bumper. That was Cue Card’s second race. He had already proven his owner correct by winning his first, in a low key meeting at Fontwell.

Of the day he first laid eyes on Cue Card, Colin Tizzard says: “We thought he’d win a bumper first time – which he did.”

Joe would have more Cheltenham success on Cue Card, steering him past the winning post first in 2013’s Ryanair Chase. Now, following his retirement in 2014, he is an instrumental member, along with mum Pauline and sister Kim, of his father’s empire.

Asked how dad is coping with the Gold Cup – and its potential for delivering a financial jackpot – on the horizon, Joe erupts into a fit of laughter. “He’s in good form today, but he has his moments,” he says. “I have to handle him sometimes!”

On the same subject of keeping him in line Colin admits: “Kim does a hell of a lot. Her first job in the morning is to try and organise me every day.”

In pre-Sat Nav days, Tizzard’s audience at this press gathering would, in all probability, have been arriving in dribs and drabs, a frazzled lot, content to fire off a few questions and get on with attempting to negotiate the journey home.

One senses that scenario would have played nicely to Tizzard’s mischievous side. Instead, following a parade of his festival hopefuls, he is surrounded by a scrum, armed with notebooks and recording devices, and satiated by hot coffee and biscuits – but with a real appetite to dig into the flesh of this stirring story.

Colin Tizzard is a quietly spoken man. But he is authoritative. His features give away far more than he would probably wish.

You don’t doubt him, though, when he says Gold Cup glory is his priority, far above the cash bonus that victory would deliver him; 15% of the prize pot to be precise.

“The money is a lovely idea,” Tizzard says. “But winning the Gold Cup would be the absolute pinnacle.

“The Gold Cup is everyone’s aim in life. It’s the best race.”

The responsibility for piloting Cue Card over 22 fences, across the 3 mile 2 ½ furlong Prestbury Park course falls on the shoulders of Paddy Brennan.

And Tizzard believes that in the Irishman, who was on board for the two victories that set up this £1m tilt, he has the perfect man for the job.

“Paddy puts a lot of thought into it,” says the trainer, explaining that Brennan is having a major say in his mount’s preparation for the big day.

“It’s so important for him, for the owners and for me.

“He’s resurrected his career and he looks good. He’s not going to be fazed by any Gold Cup, that’s for sure.”

As a winner of the race on Imperial Commander in 2010, nor should he be. The jockey’s excessive use of the whip in his King George victory saw him hit with an 11 day racing ban. Ruby Walsh, on the beaten Vautour, was forced to sit out two days for a similar infringement.

Perhaps Brennan’s potential 10 percent cut of the Triple Crown bounty contributed to his hardline approach at Kempton. However, the 34-year-old pulled it off, though, that particular triumph would quickly become more poignant than anybody could have imagined.

Bob Bishop, Cue Card’s joint owner, died four days after his horses’ King George success – on his wife of 62 years Jean’s birthday.

Speaking after the death of his friend and boss of six years, Colin Tizzard painted a picture of a life fully lived.

“Bob was the straightest, fairest man I’ve ever met,” he said. “He had an amazing life as well. He was once a professional footballer, he worked for the police and he was a major underwriter involved in a lot of kidnappings.

“He was a great storyteller, too. He once told me he arrived home to find Jean sat on the sofa with one of the Kray twins. He had come over to have a chat with Bob.”

Those words were spoken by a man who, in his sporting youth, clean bowled Ian Botham in a Somerset cricket trial match.

While Tizzard’s career in whites would be somewhat left in the shade by that of his schoolboy victim, the trainer feels he is now stepping out of the shade of the big hitters who dominate his trade.

“If Cue Card were trained by (Tizzard’s rivals and hugely decorated pair) Paul Nicholls or Willie Mullins he would probably be favourite,” says Tizzard.

“That sums it up. We’re only just getting there with these good horses. I hope we don’t mess it up in the next few weeks!”

Joe, who, in typically understated fashion, describes the Jockey Club’s £1m initiative as a ‘nice touch’, takes up his dad’s theme.

“It’s starting to get a little bit tense now,” he says. “It’s our job to get them (the stable’s Cheltenham runners) there in one piece.”

In Cue Card’s case, the tension is ratcheted further up the scale by memories of 12 months ago. In 2014, three weeks out from Cheltenham, the horse suddenly couldn’t raise a gallop. It transpired that some loose skin on Cue Card’s epiglottis was blocking his windpipe. Colin Tizzard describes the effect as being akin to his charge having a golf ball stuck in his throat.

It is why Joe says that worries of a similar setback are near-permanent bedfellows for everybody concerned.

That will include a majority of the 2,800 strong population in Cue Card’s home village. The horse, reveals Joe, was the talk of this corner of Dorset following his Boxing Day heroics.

What victory in the big one would do for Milborne Port, whose rather inauspicious claim to fame before the advent of a wonder horse in the village, was the rotten borough status it held prior to the Reform Act of 1832, who knows?

Tizzard, though, makes no attempt to conceal how much he would value a maiden Gold Cup, with only his second ever runner in the race.

His first – in the 2007 edition, won by the Nicholls trained Kauto Star, landing the treble that is now in Tizzard’s sights – 100-1 shot Bob Bob Bobbin, was pulled up by Joe at the 19th fence.

Colin reveals that he entered that horse merely to have a runner in the race he holds in such high regard.

Summing up his feelings now, with his and Cue Card’s day in the spotlight creeping ever closer, he says: “I do feel the pressure. It makes me feel nervous just talking about it.

“But Cue Card has had such a good season already. As long as we all do what we have been doing all season, we should be fine.”

Returning to the subject of money, Tizzard sighs. “We all need to make the money,” he says wistfully.

“I’ll pay my mortgage off and it’ll be gone – well it’ll pay part of my mortgage!”

Tizzard’s loyal stable staff stand to share 10 percent of any Jockey Club payout, with Jean Bishop primed to scoop 65 percent of the sum.

There is no obvious hierarchy here, though.

Down on Milborne Port’s one main road, a couple of hundred yards away from the old Queen’s Head pub that used to be home to Colin Tizzard’s dad Leslie, is another hostelry, whose motto reads: The Tippling Philosopher – Where Your Friends Are.

And the same seems to be true of Spurles Farm, a close-knit community all of its own. One which would welcome a £1m injection. But one that would be bursting with pride that money just can’t buy, if they become immortalised in Cheltenham Gold Cup history.

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