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Chester Cup: 7/2 Countrywide Flame can’t fail on the Roodee

Flat trainers must be getting slightly cheesed off with top National Hunt handlers switching codes to pick off the some of the flat season’s top staying prizes and in no race is this a more regular occurrence than the Chester Cup. 2013 sees John Quinn’s Champion Hurdle bronze medallist Countrywide Flame in the jumpers vanguard and the five-year-old – 7/2 favourite for the contest with Coral – has all the attributes to become the fourth jumper to lift the prize in the last four years. 

2012 was a stellar year over jumps and on the level for Countrywide Flame, with John Quinn’s dual-purpose star following up a Triumph Hurdle win at the Cheltenham Festival with a 2m Chester handicap win and a close second in Newmarket’s 2m2f Cesarewitch Handicap on the level.

That kind of form would put him right in the mix for the Chester Cup, but in the jumps season since he’s stepped up on those efforts dramatically, with his official rating gong up 14lbs during the course of a campaign which peaked with a four and a quarter length defeat by Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham. As a result he is now rated 22lbs better over timber than any of the other hurdlers taking part in the Chester Cup.

In contrast his flat mark is only 4lbs higher now than when just missing out to repeat winner Aaim To Prosper in the Cesarewitch.

Chester’s unique Roodee circuit is not to the liking of all horses, with it’s tight curves an inconvenience to the bigger more rangy gallopers, but Countrywide Flame proved himself adept at negotiating its demands when scoring over 2m there last term. Michael O’Connell had the reins that day and he’ll team up with the five-year-old once more this time.

Such is the tight nature of the track that hitting the front early on is highly advisable, with seven of the last 10 winners racing prominently throughout and just one coming from off the pace during that period. A stall four berth is an ideal home from which to break for the 7/2 favourite who made all on his last visit to Chester.