Cue takes aim at Ascot prize
It is crunch time for Cue Card at Ascot on Saturday as the 2010 Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner warms up for a fourth successive Festival.
Trainer Colin Tizzard expects Cue Card's performance in the Betfair Ascot Chase will tell him whether to aim for the Ryanair Chase or the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The seven-year-old has to put behind him a disappointing display in the King George VI Chase at Kempton where he failed to stay three miles.
"This is a race we planned from Christmas to take in before Cheltenham," said Tizzard.
"He didn't get three miles on heavy ground on Boxing Day. Whether he'll get three miles another day there, I don't know. There might have been other reasons - he might not have been 100%.
"Our view is if he's going to run in the Ryanair he needs to nearly win this. If he doesn't stay he can go back and take on Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase.
"We will keep the options open to the end, but Ascot should show us which way we are going to go at Cheltenham."
Somersby was far from disgraced on his first run of the campaign, when third to Sprinter Sacre in the rearranged Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham.
The Mick Channon-trained gelding had won that race last season when it was at its traditional home at Ascot when he defeated Finian's Rainbow, who is also in this line-up.
Somersby's rider Dominic Elsworth is expecting a decent run as the nine-year-old returns to the Berkshire venue.
"I'm looking forward to it. I was pleased with his run at Cheltenham and he has come out of the race well," he said.
"Obviously it was his first run for a while and he was against Sprinter Sacre, so you had to be pleased enough with the run. The ground wouldn't have been ideal for him, it was really testing.
"He's back at Ascot, where he has run very well in the past, and I don't see the trip being too much of an issue - he's won over two and a half miles.
"It's going to be a hell of a race. There are just six runners but it's going to be a competitive race."
Captain Chris took the Amlin 1965 Chase on this course in November before running a tremendous race in the King George when he was only beaten a neck by Long Run.
His trainer Philip Hobbs would prefer drier conditions, but is confident his nine-year-old will cope.
"We could do with better ground, but he won on heavy ground at Ascot before so he'll manage," said the Minehead handler.
"He ran a fantastic race at Kempton and is in very good form. He always had a tendency to jump right, so it shouldn't matter too much at Ascot."
Ghizao was well ahead of Finian's Rainbow when third to Captain Chris here in November.
His owner Andy Stewart believes the nine-year-old will be hard pressed to land this prize.
"He is 100% fine, but probably not good enough to beat Cue Card. It's a competitive race. He has got it all to do," he said.
Pigeon Island is likely to be the complete outsider and his jockey Sam Twiston-Davies is hoping they can grab some of the prize money on offer.
"You will always get a great ride off him. It would be nice to nick a bit of prize money. Anything more we will be very grateful for," he told At The Races.
"It's a very open race and obviously Captain Chris is a very good horse."