Balthazar King ready to rule again at Cheltenham
Balthazar King has a superb record at Cheltenham and can further enhance it by landing the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase there today (3.35) for the second year running.
The Philip Hobbs trained gelding is a seven time winner at Prestbury Pak, and is three from five over course and distance.
The 10-year-old was better than ever last season, landing a contest at the Showcase meeting before following up in this contest when beating Uncle Junior by a length.
The son of King’s Theatre then landed the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at the Festival for a second time having prevailed in 2012, before putting in a a storming effort to finish runner-up to Pineau De Re in the Crabbies’ Grand National at Aintree.
Balthazar King is also very well-treated by the conditions of this contest, being able to race off the same weight as his main rivals despite being rated 9lb and upwards their superior.
Another plus is that Balthazar has the services of Richard Johnson in the saddle, and he comes into the contest on the back of a win in a cross country event in France which should have put him spot on to defend his crown at a track where he has becoming a standing dish.
The main danger to the selection is likely to be Irish raider Uncle Junior.
The Willie Mullins trained gelding beat Balthazar King in this contest 12 months ago but has not won since.
At 13 years of age it may well be that his best days are behind him, but the son of Saddlers’ Hall is still the one most likely to take advantage if the favourite under performs.
Another worthy of a mention is Rare Bob, who is a fair sort on his day and now makes his cross country debut.
The 12-year-old finsihed a fine fifth in the 2013 running of the Grand National behind Aurora’s Encore but has only been seen twice since.
It’s hard to know excatly how much ability the son of Bob Back retains, but off an official rating of 144 he is a big player at the weights on the pick of his back form if taking to the unique course.