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Cue Card glorious in defeat with the old zest still there.

He LOST, but it did not feel like that. As soon as Cue Card passed the winning line, racegoers moved at speeds to which they are almost certainly not accustomed, sprinting to reach the rail along the walkway. once there, they applauded him off the racecourse and then, as he entered the paddock in the most glorious defeat, a different group of fans made the sort of noise that greets very few Ascot winners.

It was all rather wonderful.

So, too, of course, is Cue Card. When we last saw jumping's most popular performer he was clambering over haydock's final fence en route to a 57-length defeat. Before that he had suffered a horrible fall at Wetherby, only two runs after his second Cheltenham Gold Cup crash. on his return to a familiar stage we feared for him, but only because we love him. Now both our affection and admiration for Cue Card is deeper than ever.

In his attempt to win a third Betfair Ascot Chase, in which all Cue Card's rivals were upwards of four years his junior, Colin Tizzard took the sheepskin noseband off and put Paddy Brennan back on.

Brennan, on board for five of Cue Card's nine Grade 1s, ignited his old friend from flagfall and asked him one overriding question. he demanded to know if the spark was still there. What he felt and what we saw is that it is.

Jean Bishop's pride and joy appeared to love every second of his afternoon at Ascot, racing with a relish and glee that was a joy to watch. It settled your nerves and allowed you to enjoy what was to come.

on the second climb from Swinley Bottom the dual Cheltenham Festival winner positively soared over the uphill fences, and even when headed by Waiting Patiently the fight was plainly still in his belly.

At the age of 12, Cue Card has made a comeback.

"That was probably one of the best rides I've had off him - he never gives up," said Brennan, who can now look forward to Cheltenham, where the veteran could bid to regain the Ryanair Chase he captured in 2013 or seek Gold Cup redemption, having fallen three out the last two seasons.

"he was brilliant all the way round," said Tizzard.

"Goodness me, he has been that good at home, but I'm so glad he's done it here. he's just a good boy.

"he'll go to Cheltenham, but it's no good asking me which race. There is unfinished business in one race and he has won the other before.

Ultimately it will be Jean's choice.

"The feeling is mainly relief. There's pressure training horses, there's no two ways about that. If you don't feel pressure you probably shouldn't be training. If you do feel pressure you probably shouldn't be training either. This horse is a pleasure to train though."

explaining why there had been a headgear change, Tizzard added: "We've had him for nine seasons now.

Sometimes you have to change things in life a bit.

"he had a noseband on because he holds his head up a little, but we never ride him in one at home. We schooled him in a grackle bridle on Thursday and Paddy had a job to hold him. We could see he was enjoying it, so we decided to let him run loose."

"he ran like a horse let loose, full of the zest that hallmarked his Champion Bumper triumph all those years ago."

Bishop's reply, asked how she felt watching the race, was: "Don't ask me!" Yet she surely felt better after than she had before. We all did. The wonderful Cue Card story continues.

Lee Mottershead
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Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Feb 18, 2018
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