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Balthazar can be King on Cheltenham’s Friday card

The tough and consistent Balthazar King can gain his revenge on last year’s conqueror Uncle Junior when the two line up for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at 3.15. Uncle Junior sprinted clear to win by eleven lengths 12 months ago but his form has tailed off at the age of twelve whilst Balthazar King is on a hat-trick.

A win in a valuable race in France was followed by a comfortable seven-length victory in the Showcase Trophy at Cheltenham’s opening fixture. Balthazar King is no stranger to the cross country course having won the Glenfarclas at the festival meeting last year.

The popular Chicago Grey, himself a former festival winner, and 2010 Hennessy Gold Cup winner Diamond Harry will be interesting rivals. Chicago Grey tends to drop himself out in his races and that could be a problem here whilst Diamond Harry failed to trouble the judge in two races in France in the summer.

Favourite backers will be looking for Standing Ovation to get them off to a flyer when he goes for a five-timer in the opening Amateur Riders’ event. His victory in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton suggested that he was still improving and he could be up to defying a 7lbs rise in the weights.

One of the most exciting new recruits to chasing this year is Nicky Henderson’s Oscar Whisky who lines up in the Steel Plate and Sections Novices’ Chase at 2.05. He faces a smart opponent in Taquin Du Seuil from Jonjo O’Neill’s in-form stable but should be up to the task.

The Paddy Power Handicap Chase at 1.35 looks wide open but Eastlake should give Tony McCoy’s legion of followers a run for their money. He won well at Aintree and looks the pick of the three recent winners.

David Pipe would love to win the David Johnson Memorial race at 2.40, the race named in honour of his late patron. His sole representative is Top Gamble who could be anything after bolting up in two modest races at Ffos Las last term.

Selections: 1.05 Standing Ovation (nb), 1.35 Eastlake, 2.05 Oscar Whisky, 2.40 Top Gamble, 3.15 Balthazar King (NAP), 3.50 Rosie Probert