Can Balthazar King rule at Aintree?
The Crabbie’s Grand National is one major prize that leading jockey Richard Johnson has been unable to get his hands on, but he looks to have a live outside chance of breaking his duck in this year’s renewal on Balthazar King.
Johnson has enjoyed tremendous success at the Cheltenham Festival, were he has won all four of the championship races.
He has also finished runner-up no less than 11-times to Tony McCoy in the champion jockey title race, and became only the eighth jockey to ride 1,000 winners when partnering Quedex to victory at Stratford in 2003.
It’s a remarkable record, and the 36-year-old would dearly love to add to it with a win in the Grand National.
So far, the nearest he has come to winning the world’s greatest steeplechase was in 2002 when What’s Up Boys got collared in the last 75 yards to be beaten 1 3/4 length by Bindaree having been three lengths clear at the famous elbow on the run-in.
This year he will once again team up with the evergreen Balthazar King, who ran so well for much of last year’s contest before finishing 15th of 40 to Auroras Encore.
The gelding raced with plenty of zest at the head of the field and led until the 18th before hitting the 20th and weakening to be beaten 91 lengths.
He was officially rated 146 that day and carried 10st 12lb, and is set to carry just 1lb more this time around having been rated 150 before winning the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival for the second time.
The 10-year-old has also been in the form of his life this season, and goes into the contest on the back of a four-timer following his win at the Festival.
His bold, accurate jumping style looks ideal for Aintree, as does his tenacious ability to battle when challenged for the lead at the business end of affairs.
He will have to step up significantly on what he showed in last year’s contest, but he wouldn’t be the first horse to improve for a first look over the unique fences and now looks better treated at the weights.
His age also shouldn’t be a barrier, as five 10-year-olds have won the race since 2003 and there have also been two 11-year-old winners and one 12-year-old winner in that period.
Coral go 33/1 about him for the big race on Saturday, April 5th, and there would certainly be no more popular a winner than the Philip Hobbs’ trained gelding and his top class rider.