JEAN BISHOP, owner of Cue Card, has led the tributes to her immensely popular chaser after it was announced he had been retired on Tuesday.
The 12-year-old, trained by Colin Tizzard, was scheduled to bid farewell on the track by having a final outing in the bet365 Oaksey Chase at Sandown on the final day of the jumps season.
However, the nine-time Grade 1 winner, who amassed £1.45million in prize money during his superb and lengthy career, had failed to sparkle on the gallops and so the early retirement decision was made.
Cue Card first hit the headlines when winning the Champion Bumper at the Festival in 2010 and despite all of the success that followed, it is that first Grade 1 win that Bishop has pinpointed to be her happiest memory of the legendary horse.
“I think my favourite day was the Cheltenham Bumper because that was so unexpected, he was 40-1 and it was the beginning of everything for him,” said Bishop.
“If it wasn’t for Sprinter Sacre, he might have had another three or four Grade 1s. We never ran away from anything and he took them all on, he was the only one that did.
“He always tried his best and sometimes he wasn’t beaten that far by him.”
Cue Card’s last win came in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase in February 2017 and he bows out having won 16 of his 41 races, including three Betfair Chases, two Ascot Chases, a Ryanair Chase and a King George.
He was arguably at his best in the 2015-16 season, when he won the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and the Betfair Chase before adding the King George at Kempton after a thrilling battle on Boxing Day with the classy Vautour.
Perhaps the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup was the one that got away, as he headed into the race the 5-2 joint-favourite and on the cusp of winning the £1million Triple Crown bonus, but he fell three fences from home when still travelling strongly.
“I think his longevity made it him stand out. He did miss the Gold Cup one year but we’ve never been hard on him, he was never over-raced, he was healthy all the time,” said Bishop.
“There was the one season, which you’d say was his highlight, the year he nearly won the bonus. Even after his fall, he went back to win at Aintree. He always came back.
“For a few seasons he was the highest-rated chaser in Britain. Look how hard it is for Gold Cup winners to come back the following season. He might not have won the Gold Cup, but he kept coming back.
“Even as recently as February, he ran right up to his best at Ascot against a horse everyone is tipping for the top (Waiting Patiently).
“We’d have liked to have run at Sandown, but if he’s not right then he can’t run. Had it been earlier in the year we could have let him get over this,but you never know what might happen in a race.
“We can go and enjoy Sandown now without any pressure. I feel sad about it and while he can enjoy his retirement, it is always sad when something comes to an end.”
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Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father but previously Cue Card’s jockey in his earlier career, broke the news.
“We’ve taken the decision this morning to retire Cue Card. He wasn’t working quite as well as he can and we didn’t want to take him to Sandown if we weren’t 100% happy with him,” Tizzard told Coral.
“We will still take him to Sandown to parade him, and to celebrate a great career. He has been an incredible horse for us and now he can look forward to a new chapter in his life.”
He added on At The Races: “It takes a lot for a horse to be at the top for as long as he has.
“Early on he was very keen, too keen really. He had a huge engine and pulled for a mile and a half of a two-mile race. It wasn’t until he went over fences that he learned to race properly.
“I think his first Betfair win at Haydock stands out. We’d been keen to try him over three miles, but there had been a lot of discussion whether it was the right thing to do.
“He won by 20 lengths and it brought Dad to tears – I don’t think I’ve ever seen that, so that stands out for me.”