Battle Royal: Balthazar King v Big Shu
The two current kings of the cross country scene are set to clash in Glenfarclas Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in what promises to be a battle royal.
Coral make defending champion Big Shu the 4/1 favourite for the 3m 7f contest, but he will have to be at his very best to see off Cheltenham specialist Balthazar King (11/2).
Big Shu is trained in Ireland by Peter Maher and has followed the same route this season as he did before springing a 14/1 surprise 12 months ago when beating Shakervilz by four lengths.
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 at Prestbury Park last year.
The nine-year-old is due to meet Love Rory on 5lb better terms at the Festival and has clearly been trained solely with the defence of his crown in mind.
The hopes of the Irish are clearly pinned on his shoulders, but in Balthazar King he faces a rival who is looking better than ever at the age of 10 and comes alive at Cheltenham.
Philip Hobbs’ charge is a six time winner at the track, three times over the cross country course, and won the 2011 running of the Glenfarclas at the Festival.
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.
Interestingly, he is also the only British trained horse to have triumphed in the race since it was first run at the Festival in 2005.
With the Prestbury Cup being presented to trainers and jockeys from the nation which has the most winners in the 27 races over the four days for the first time this year, the home team will be hoping he can repeat the dose to help them lift the trophy.