THE ghost of Christmas past may conjure images of Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge, but for Joe Tizzard it could be the home straight at Kempton Park. Two years ago he was riding Cue Card in the William Hill King George VI Chase and leading with three fences to jump.

He held victory in the palm of his hand and then the horse with the stable name of Crackle went snap and pop as he faded to finish second to Silviniaco Conti.

That would be the closest Cue Card came to winning a race for nearly two years but Tizzard – now retired from riding and assistant trainer to his father, Colin – believes their stable star is back to his best ahead of his run in the King George on Boxing Day after an operation to relieve a trapped epiglottis that was impairing the horse’s breathing.

“He’s one of those horses who gives you his all and he was travelling easily the best,” Tizzard reflected. “He pinged two out and, two strides after he landed, he emptied on me. I went from super confident of winning to falling in a complete heap.

“It was something he’d never done before. At the time we had no explanation but now you look back and wonder whether that problem was always there, although he’d never made a noise with his breathing which is usually a sign.”

The issue eventually became more evident to the point that Cue Card was operated on in February, missing the Cheltenham Festival. He was back on track to run at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring but it was not until the autumn that he began to show his true form by winning the Grade Two Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and then a second Betfair Chase at Haydock last month.

That was the fifth Grade One victory of a career that has divided the opinions of the grandstand experts ever since he won the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham five years ago.

Cue Card and the Tizzards have never ducked a fight and have always traded punches with the best. As a novice he failed by just a short head to give 7lbs to future Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth and was also the horse who came closest to giving Sprinter Sacre a run for his money two seasons ago when that was a task Hercules would have swerved.

In the midst of those gallant loses Cue Card won the Ascot Chase, the Betfair Chase and the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but defeats, including three in the King George, gave the Doubting Thomas Society some ammunition, the more so when Cue Card began firing blanks last season.

“If you saw the DVD of the trapped epiglottis it was like a plug in his wind pipe,” Tizzard explained. “And horses will remember when they’ve had a problem like that. I think he needed the runs at Aintree and Punchestown to know himself that he was OK.

"I think it wasn’t until the Charlie Hall this year that the horse realised ‘this isn’t going to hurt when I come under pressure’. Going to the last I was thinking ‘is he going to empty?’. But then he went again and I think that was the tell-tale sign with him, realising that he could breathe.”

Breathing space might be a precious commodity in this year’s King George with Cue Card taking on Don Cossack – who beat him in both the Melling Chase at Aintree and the Punchestown Gold Cup – and Vatour coming over from Ireland while to Silviniaco Conti will be attempting to win the race for a third year in succession.

However, there is a palpable sense that Tizzard believes Cue Card and new jockey Paddy Brennan can right the wrongs of before. He said: "There are some top-class horses in there, but we’re very happy with the way we have Cue Card.

"He was really good before the Charlie Hall, better after and he feels fantastic now. He’s full of confidence and so is Paddy and this is the best we’ve had him going into a King George.”

Christmas present could turn out to be the best one yet.