16.00 Cheltenham: King can rule in Cross Country Chase
Balthazar King has a superb record at Cheltenham and is taken to see of a strong Irish challenge headed by last year’s winner Big Shu and the up-and-coming Love Rory to win the Cross Country Chase.
Philip Hobbs’ charge is a six-time winner at the track, three times over the cross country course, and won the 2011 running of this contest.
He heads into the race bidding for a four timer, having won the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase for the second year in succession when last seen in action at the track back in November.
The son of King’s Theatre, who is set to shoulder top weight of 11st 12lb and has to give 2lb to Big Shu, will also have the services of Richard Johnson in the saddle and is a tenacious battler who jumps for fun and is extremely difficult to pass when in front.
At the age of 10 he has looked better than ever this season, and his chances will increase further the more the ground dries out.
Big Shu heads the market as he bids to follow-up his success in the contest 12 months ago and looks a formidable opponent.
Peter Maher’s nine-year-old sprang a 14/1 surprise when beating Shakervilz by four lengths, and has been given the same prep this season as he attempts to retain his crown.
He finished a 2 1/4 length runner-up to Love Rory last time out in the Glenfarclas P.P Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase at Punchestown, and occupied the same position in that contest before going one better in this last year.
The gelding is set to meet Love Rory on 5lb better terms in this and has clearly been trained solely with this race in mind.
However, although he is entitled to finish much closer to Love Rory, the chances of that rival should not be underestimated.
His Limerick-based handler Enda Bolger has won four of the nine runnings of the race since it was introduced into the Festival programme in 2005, with the last coming courtesy of Garde Champetre in 2009.
In Love Rory he has a progressive six-year-old who has a strike rate of 25 per cent in his races under rules, winning four from 16 and being placed on three occasions.
He won with a bit to spare when beating Big Shu by 2 1/4 lengths, and is three years younger than that rival and open to further improvement.