1 Cue Card 7/2
2 First Lieutenant 2/1 Fav
3 For Non Stop 12/1 8 ran Distances: 9l, 3¼l, nk
TIME 5m 19.30s (slow by 12.30s)
Jockey Joe Tizzard rode his first Festival winner as a 17-year-old amateur on Earthmover in the 1998 CGA Foxhunter Chase, but few successes on any track could mean more than Cue Card's victory in today's Ryanair Chase.
The winner is trained by Tizzard's father, Colin, and carries the colours of Bob and Jean Bishop, owners who have used the jockey's services over many years. No less pleasing was the chance to confirm Cue Card as a top-class act.
After the 7/2 shot had beaten First Lieutenant and For Non Stop by nine lengths and three and a quarter lengths, Tizzard said: "People say he's keen when he gets taken on, and he has been in the past, but today he wasn't. I went to post on a long rein and he settled well. With a circuit to go I was able to say 'I'm gonna slow this down and go my pace'. I was able to keep filling him up and he's done what I always knew he was capable of. It's fantastic for me and for the horse, because he's had his detractors.
"He's a top-class horse - he's been to four Festivals [he won the 2010 Weatherbys Champion Bumper and was second in last year's Racing Post Arkle Chase] and he's never failed to reach the winner's enclosure. It's not just him, but certain horses thrive off this environment, this atmosphere. He walks around the paddock here with a bit of a swagger and enjoys every moment of it. All his best form is on this track.
"He's only seven, but it could be horses are at their best younger these days. He's got to his best now, so no reason why he can't go on for another few years. He was a big baby and now he's filled out and learned to race and settle. I knew he wouldn't tank with me today, which was a lovely feeling.
"Since the Arkle last year I felt he needed this longer trip, although we did think about running him in the Queen Mum and on Sunday and Monday it was possible the ground would be really heavy and that crossed our mind, but having seen Sprinter Sacre win yesterday this was the right decision. I'd rather win this than be second to him.
"Maybe we should step him up in trip at some point, and write off the King George on Boxing Day [over 3m, in which he was only fifth]. It's been a brilliant week for the yard, and to have a winner on Tuesday with Golden Chieftain [ridden by Brendan Powell Jr] took the pressure off.
"I want to thank Bob and Jean Bishop - I rode for them before they had horses with Dad, and they wanted me to keep riding for them so put horses into our yard. They're lovely, lovely people."
The decision to swerve that rival in yesterday's feature race, the two-mile Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase, and focus instead on the two mile, five furlong Ryanair Chase certainly proved to be the right one following another wide-margin Cheltenham win, this time by nine lengths over the 2/1 favourite First Lieutenant.
His visibly relieved trainer Colin Tizzard said: "There is a lot of pressure when you have these really nice horses and he did everything today we thought he would. They went a true old gallop and he proved he can stay now - it was a beautiful ride from Joe (his son).
"He jumped fast and fluent and you have seen him at his best today. He was always coasting and Joe always seemed more confident than I was. I am glad it's over because there has been a lot of pressure on me in this past fortnight.
"The first winner of the week (Golden Chieftain in Tuesday's JLT Specialty Chase) was a hell of a surprise but this one was half expected because he has been a good horse for four years. As long as I can keep him in one piece, hopefully we will have a few more good years in him.
"It's a great moment for Joe and having your son on the horse is the pinnacle but then again it does have its reverse when things go wrong, especially with young Brendan (Powell) snapping at him. It doesn't do Joe any harm and it keeps Joe going well.
"I have found the last fortnight quite hard. It's nerves, that's all it is, but Cue Card is a brilliant horse and we have to make sure that he is fit and well every time he comes here, so it's a bit of pressure.
"We sat down with Bob and Jean (Bishop) and, in the end, we said that we could be a yee-haa and take on Sprinter Sacre but he beat us last year and he looked good yesterday. I wouldn't be surprised if we took him on again at some point but this was the right decision for the horse, to let him have another Festival win.
"Joe said that he slowed it up going out on the second circuit and they didn't go by him. He slowed it up at the top of the hill again and they were dropping back. That's why he had so much at the finish.
"The beautiful part about it is that he loves Cheltenham. He made my spine tingle three years ago in the Champion Bumper but we have come to expect it from him now - he was improving again today. It has been lovely to get him here four times on the trot.
"I actually watch my son all of the time and he wasn't doing anything - he wasn't forcing him, he was just sat up on him. The horse didn't have the bit - he just drops the bit nowadays and you can go as fast as you like. He has got easier to ride.
"We only ran him four times last season and we would have taken in Aintree but he knocked his leg schooling two days before. We thought at the beginning of the year that we won't do too much but he can take his racing - we will probably do both Aintree and Punchestown, all being well. He didn't have a hard race today, did he?"
Trainer Mouse Morris was philosophical after 2/1 favourite First Lieutenant found Cue Card nine lengths too good when second in the Ryanair Chase.
"It was a great run and we have no excuses," said Morris. "The winner was all class this afternoon and it would have taken a good one to beat him today. He'll probably go to Punchestown if he comes out of this OK."
Nick Williams, trainer of third-placed For Non Stop, said: "That was a great run and basically he has run exactly as he should have done on form."
The Ryanair Chase may have been the last racecourse appearance for Jonjo O'Neill-trained Albertas Run, winner of the Grade 1 contest in 2010 and 2011. The 12-year-old, having his first run of the season after recovering from a leg injury sustained when second in the race 12 months ago, was pulled just past half-way by Tony McCoy when at the rear of the field.
"We'll make no decision right at the moment," said owner Trevor Hemmings. "We'll take him home and check him over and see if it's anything or nothing with him. Maybe he'll run at Aintree, maybe he won't. If he does, that will be his last run. If he doesn't, this will have been.
"Tony said the horse just didn't feel comfortable and although nothing had happened, he didn't want to push him until something did. He did right."