A race run on the cross-country course at Cheltenham over a distance of three miles and seven furlongs, this event is like no other steeplechase of its kind within the UK with a total of 32 obstacles to be jumped throughout the race.
Experience is necessary in tackling these fences so it pays to side with horses with prior experience around the course when making a selection.
Won last year by Balthazar King for trained Phillip Hobbs, who became the first British trained runner of the race since it began in 2005, breaking the Irish stronghold.
A few key stats to focus on when looking at this race;
Experience is key in this race, with only one winner from multiple attempts aged under 8 over the cross-country fences at Cheltenham.
The last twenty-three winners of the race had all contested cross country races before.
It is possible to win this weight off big weights, with Spotthedifference (2005) and Garde Champetre (2009) lugging top weight to victory.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Afdala (IRE) (Hernando (FR ) (12.3f))
Notes: Probably right to side with last year’s winner who clung on gamely to record an all out success in this race. Looks to be following a similar route this year being kept fresh for the race, he won a good open handicap on his return in October before a second placed effort over these fences in November to Uncle Junior. He looks sure to be a major player back over these fences on forecast better ground and will get weight from Uncle Junior back into handicap grade.
Witness Box (USA) — Supreme Style (IRE) (Supreme Leader (12.4f))
Notes: Currently joint-favourite in the antepost market but there is something about him which makes me want to take him on. He showed a very quirky nature when third to Uncle Junior and Balthazar King over this course and distance, before turning that form around in a handicap off a 17lb higher mark over the same course and distance on soft ground in December. He seems a better horse on softer ground and clearly has his quirks and for that reason I think he is plenty short enough in the market, so I’m taking him on.
Beneficial (14.3f) — Dasdilemma (IRE) (Furry Glen (12.8f))
Notes: The other joint-favourite in the market and his first experience of these fences resulted in an unseat at the same fence as Uncle Junior (27th) last time. He is still a young horse capable of improving and is at the right end of the weights for this contest in March. Seems to have been kept fairly exclusively to softer ground so conditions at the Festival could be a concern and his form ties in closely with Outlaw Pete at the head of affairs.
Saddlers´ Hall (IRE) (11.5f) — Caslain Nua (Seymour Hicks (FR ) (10.1f))
Notes: Has a fairly decent record over this course and distance of 1781U but the return to handicap grade will make life difficult for this Willie Mullins inmate having recently won in a conditions race where conditions favoured him. Still going alright when unseating at the 27th when last seen here he looks sure to play a hand in proceedings again but it wouldn’t surprise if one or two were too good for him at these terms.
Winged Love (IRE) (14.8f) — Lady Boston (FR) (Mansonnien (FR ) (16.9f))
Notes: A horse which has shown a liking for Cheltenham in the past with a victory in what has turned out to be a poor RSA Chase back in 2011, he hasn’t really hit the heights expected of him since then thus him ending up in this sphere. Has been campaigned mostly on softer ground over in Ireland but has looked to me like a better horse on better ground, so his second place to Outlaw Pete over course and distance reads well considering how well he travelled throughout the race. Any drier ground will certainly suit this gelded son of Winged Love and although either side of that run he has been beaten convincingly by Arabella Boy (who will be on better terms) this is a different test altogether and I expect him to go well.
Sizing Australia won this in 2011 and has shown good form in the large over these fences and looks set to contest this race again. Fourth in 2012 behind Balthazar King and looks likely to run on into a place.
Malijmar has proven on more than one occasion now that he doesn’t stay this trip and he is getting on in years, so although likeable I can’t see him winning bar a comedy of errors from his rivals.
In what looks to be a fairly small and compact field for this specialist race, I am kind of glad to have gotten it out the way nice and early before moving onto more pressing races. Some people have suggested this type of race doesn’t have a place within the Championship of National Hunt racing but I think it has its uses for horses you may have otherwise given up on and is always a fun spectacle to watch.
With that in mind I think this race could suit BOSTONS ANGEL who has looked laboured and out of sorts elsewhere, yet showed signs of a revival over these fences when second giving away weight to Outlaw Pete on his first try at this course and distance. He should improve for the experience and for better ground and at around 10-1 ranks a very fair bet at the moment.
That’s what I think! What do you think?