*As the subject continues being debated on social media I thought it worthwhile editing my original post which I’ve done below.
Cue Card has been a standing dish on this blog since 2011. He’s one of my favourite horses and I’m dismayed to see him entered in The Betfair again because I think there might be something wrong with him. In 2013 he was absolutely running away with the King George only to stop suddenly before running on again to finish second. His trainer later speculated that what had happened was a sudden epiglottal blockage (his epiglottis was operated on the following year and it turned his career around). So, things can happen to a horse during a race and the reason is not always immediately obvious.
What has changed with Cue Card to cause him to have three falls in the past two years? Maybe nothing. Maybe just bad luck, I don’t know, but there is some evidence, for me, at least, that it could be something other than that.
His fall in the 2016 Gold Cup was the first public fall of his career. When he lined up that day he had run in 21 steeplechases with just an unseat in his novice days. Since that fall he has run in 9 steeplechases and fallen twice more. The 2016 fall could, of course, be put down to one-off misfortune. He fell at the same fence in the 2017 Gold Cup when under considerably more pressure and the fall was remarkably similar to the 2016 one. Cue Card went to Aintree next and ran a valiant race, mishap free bar a couple of slight errors. On Saturday he fell again.
Here are the questions these falls raise for me:
Why were the three falls so similar? Each was a cover-your-eyes crash into the belly of the fence as though he either hadn’t seen it or saw it very late.
His jumping technique has never been textbook but in those 21 chases, no matter how he came at a fence, he always found a way of getting over; why did that desert him on three occasions in such dramatic fashion? He appears to have lost none of his scope and athleticism. He still has a fine engine and I doubt there is a more experienced jumper of fences currently racing. Why would a horse like that crash into a fence twice in three races?
I don’t buy Brennan’s low sun excuse on Saturday. They’d already jumped 4 fences down the back all pretty much in the same ‘sun line’ as the one he came down at. Also, the shadows suggest the sun was coming side on mostly, from the infield. And the front two jumped the fence impeccably. Nico mentioned the sun but I can find no complaints from other jockeys and it shone on the first circuit without causing obvious problems.
If you accept, as many do, that a horse senses the emotions of its rider and reacts to them, there is an argument that any anxiety Paddy Brennan was feeling could have contributed to the falls. Brennan can, by his own admission, be intense and a worrier. Maybe Colin Tizzard is right to at least try a change of jockey. I don’t know.
Despite some daft spinning on social media, I don’t think that only big name horses should be retired. And I don’t doubt the trainer and all connections love Cue Card. But nor do I doubt the fact that they’ve been very lucky three times; Cue Card’s first fall was a horror to watch and the other two no less so. A number of horses would not have survived them.
I accept that what is laid out here is little more than speculation built on pretty flimsy evidence. So, calls for Cue Card’s retirement are not logical. But there is enough evidence for me, and sufficient portents, to say publicly that I wish they’d retire him. A logical call? No, but for many, this is an affair of the heart.