Cue Card edges the King George VI Chase at the line
Paddy Brennan rides nine-year-old to victory for Colin Tizzard at Kempton
Jockey Paddy Brennan celebrates winning the King George VI Steeple Chase on Cue Card during day one of the William Hill Winter Festival at Kempton Park Racecourse. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA
Cue Card won the William Hill King George VI Chase at the fourth time of asking for Colin Tizzard in a pulsating finish at Kempton.
The 9-2 chance has been revitalised this year after surgery on a trapped epiglottis and the nine-year-old had already won the Charlie Hall and Betfair Chase in the early exchanges of this season.
Willie Mullins’ Vautour had looked all over the winner after taking over at the head of affairs on the second circuit from dual winner Silviniaco Conti, who disappointed and was pulled up.
Vautour was still on a hard rein with three furlongs to run as the rest were coming under pressure, none more so than the favourite Don Cossack, who to his credit was still in with a chance when he fell at the second-last.
Cue Card looked to be booked for second as Vautour pinged two out under Ruby Walsh, but his stride began to shorten, offering Cue Card a second bite.
Paddy Brennan needed a big leap on Cue Card at the final fence but he got in tight, as did Vautour, and the two gave their all on the run to the line, with Cue Card just getting the verdict.
Al Ferof finished third for the third year in succession, this time for Dan Skelton.
Brennan said: “It’s the best feeling of my whole career. I can’t take it in. I’ve beaten one of the best horses in training and beaten one of the best jockeys I’ve ever ridden against. My wife and son watching at home will be so proud.
“It was a tight one, the last time I got in (a photo) with Ruby it was Imperial Commander against Kauto Star, I thought I’d got there then but I hadn’t. But today he said to me I’d won.
“I’m not going to lie and say there was loads there, I got to the bottom of the tank but if any man is going to get him back in that sort of form for the Gold Cup it’s Colin Tizzard.
“For people that say he doesn’t stay, he stayed right to the line to get there.”
He added: “I’d just like to thank Cue Card, all the staff, Colin Tizzard and of course Bob and Jean Bishop (owners), if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be in this position.
“The best day of my life, unbelievable.”
Tizzard, whose stable star is now on the verge of a #1million Jockey Club bonus if he can win the Gold Cup, said: “Nowadays he’s a completely different horse, he might not look as if he’s going very well but he has that left for the end. It’s fantastic.
“He’s been a great horse for five or six seasons now. Going to the last if he’d met it on a good stride he’d have won easier.
“We’ll see how he is, but he looks like a Gold Cup horse now, whether he races again (before Cheltenham) I don’t know, he’s had a hard race and was all out.
“It’s lovely he relaxes so well in a race, it’s brilliant.”
Mullins was magnanimous in defeat and admitted it was “probably” a lack of stamina which cost Vautour.
“He did everything right, bar the last 20 yards,” said Mullins.
“He didn’t jump the last as efficiently as he could have, but it was a very brave run, as it was from the winner.
“I don’t know if his stamina gave out, but it probably looks like that.
“We won’t make a decision about the Gold Cup for a while, we’ll see what we have to run in it when it comes — I won’t be taking him out of it, anyhow.”
John Hales, owner of Al Ferof, said: “It looks like it will be the Ryanair Chase as he’s a specialist two-and-a-half-miler, but I thought that was a fabulous performance.
“He’s run two great races this season.”