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Cue Card to keep million pound dream alive

By Charlie Atkin

When racing's Christmas showpiece looked like becoming a victory parade for undoubtedly the sport's most popular chaser, in stepped perhaps its most popular trainer to keep the 32Red King George VI Chase's allure alive for 2017.

Both Cue Card and Thistlecrack have their legions of fans, earned through above all abundant natural talent.

The former, a 10-year-old stalwart of the racing calendar's most respected chases, the latter, an eight-year-old who will hopefully grace those same occasions for years to come.

Although Coneygree's absence is unfortunate, it allowed for Colin Tizzard to demonstrate once again his bold approach to training, which has won him as many fans as his horses of late.

By entering Thistlecrack - a novice many others would want to kept wrapped in the proverbial cotton wool until a much later date - racing will be treated to the timeless contest of experience versus potential.

Allowing his two stable stars to clash in this Christmas highlight is laudable considering such an event's rarity, with trainers these days consistently keeping their brightest prospects apart, even in the most prestigious races.

Cue Card's connections will be hoping to keep the £1million bonus dream alive, a prize named after the great Kauto Star.

It will be his back-to-back wins in the King George that Cue Card will be trying to emulate today.

Questions were raised after the son of King's Theatre's much debated return in the Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase, questions that were then emphatically answered after an impressive win in November's Betfair Chase.

For Thistlecrack, the race will certainly be a less deeply competitive affair than the Tizzard team might have expected the first time he lined up against more experienced chasers.

Yet the novice won't be able to dominate the race as he has done elsewhere in striking fashion this season, and any attempt to do so will surely leave him vulnerable to Cue Card's pouncing tactics.

Completing the small but talented field are Silviniaco Conti - a dual winner of the race in 2013 and 2014 as well as being runner-up to Valseur Lido in last month's big JNWine.com Champion Chase at the Down Royal Festival - the supplemented Josses Hill and Tea For Two, a winner on this card last year and ridden by the precocious Lizzie Kelly.

Cue Card will take all the beating in this though and hopefully line up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March to redeem his agonising fall at the third-last in 2016.

Earlier on the card, the 32Red.com Christmas Hurdle sees Yanworth out to prove himself a live Champion Hurdle prospect.

The speed he showed last year as a novice should allow him to demonstrate the benefit of youth to his older rivals, continuing his unbeaten record over this trip.

The third Grade 1 on the card is the 32Red Kauto Star Novices' Chase, where Amore Alato can put up a bold show with champion jockey Richard Johnson in the saddle to suit his front running tactics.

The Johnny Farrelly-trained gelding looked all set to win a Grade 2 in December last year before falling at the last fence. The track and ground will suit him too.

The Irish raider Anibale Fly and rapidly improving Frodon will be the main dangers.

A very tasty starter for the King George main course and that showdown of Cue Card and Thistlecrack.

Belfast Telegraph

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