‘Cue Card has everything it takes to win Gold Cup’

Paddy Brennan ready to give his all on board the horse that ‘saved his career’

Paddy Brennan and Cue Card winning The King George VI Chase. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Paddy Brennan and Cue Card winning The King George VI Chase. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

The way Paddy Brennan tells it, it’s all Ciarán Geoghegan’s fault: they sat together in primary school, and at his friend’s house there were ponies.

“In school he kept going on and on about horses. I had no interest whatsoever. But I went down to see him one day, got up on a pony and it was instant – I fell in love with it all immediately,” recalls the man who hopes to steer Cue Card to Gold Cup glory at Cheltenham today.

From riding ponies around fields in Castle Taylor, near Ardrahan in Co Galway, to steeplechasing’s ultimate prize is a journey Brennan has already completed.

Imperial Commander broke up the Kauto Star - Denman party in 2010, his jockey memorably putting a finger to his lips as he passed the post, inviting those who’d portrayed the race as a match to shut up.

Not long afterwards however the emergence of Nigel Twiston-Davies’s son Sam into the top rank of jockeys contributed to Brennan leaving the trainer who had provided him with his greatest victories.

The now 34-year-old has since maintained a place within the top-10 jockeys based in Britain but the gaps between big-race drinks had started to become longer until teaming up with Cue Card this season.

“He has saved my career,” Brennan says bluntly. “I was struggling mentally, trying to come to terms with probably not getting back to the big stage again, and he’s changed that.”

The result is a shot at a million pound bonus should Cue Card pull off a Betfair Chase, King George VI Chase and Gold Cup Triple Crown. His jockey is on ten per cent of that but when he says it’s not about the money it’s easy to believe him.

Whereas some of his colleagues are famously fluent in saying not very much at all, the Galway man is an admirably different proposition.

Once so famously intense he had the nickname ‘Psycho,’ the more mature Brennan remains a little bit different, still possesses the thrill of riding a horse just for the sake of it, and is prepared to try and explain why.

“The only thing I can compare riding a horse to is being free: you go somewhere on a horse,” he says. “Victoria Pendleton says it’s like being on an aeroplane and it is an amazing place to find adrenalin. It’s still the same for me, even though at this stage it’s about the winning feeling too. You can never get enough of that: it’s like a good wine – never gets old.”

Brennan credits marriage to his wife Lindsey – “she’s a nurse and the total opposite to me: very laid-back” – with helping him to place reverses in better context, but also old-fashioned growing up. What has never been in doubt throughout a career closing in on 1,000 winners is his ability to perform when the pressure is at its greatest. In 2007 he guided Inglis Drever to the second leg of his World Hurdle hat-trick, also rode Imperial Commander to Ryanair success before their Gold Cup triumph, and came within an ace of Grand National glory last year as Saint Are found only Many Clouds too good at Aintree.

It is that big-race temperament which the Colin Tizzard team turned to at the start of a season when many believed Cue Card’s best days were behind him too: three starts later and the horse is Britain’s top Gold Cup hope in the form of his life.

“I know what it takes to win the Gold Cup. Cue Card is tough, puts his shoulder to the wheel and has bags of class. Imperial Commander needed dig in the ground but Cue Card needs nothing because he is so versatile,” Brennan says.

And it is the supposed chink in Cue Card’s versatility – his stamina over the Gold Cup trip – which his jockey believes will actually be one of his greatest weapons against a strong Irish team.

“I have no doubt he will get the trip and we know he loves the track. He has everything it takes,” Brennan says.

“I will say, if you ask me if the Cue Card that won the King George will win the Gold Cup, I would say no: but I’m adamant he wasn’t as spot on as he can be in the King George. It was three races in nine weeks.

“And when I rode him in a workout at Kempton a couple of weeks ago he felt brilliant,” he adds.

It will be nothing to the feeling the jockey can look forward to should Cue Card give him a second Gold Cup.

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