I have decided to take some time out of doing my Weekend Scoop series and instead do an ante post preview of the Cross Country Chase, run over Cheltenham’s Cross Country course. The race will be run on the Wednesday this year which will allow the mares’ hurdle to be televised by Channel 4 on Tuesday.
The Cross Country Chase is not for everyone due to its quirky nature. Many top jockeys decide not to take part in the race however for some this race is very important. Trainer Enda Bolger specialises in training horses for these races and he will be out to win this race again having not won it for five years. The Irish have dominated this event over the years however British trainers are now starting to target specific horses at these events. Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Nick Williams have all been represented strongly in Cross Country events over the last couple of years.
This year Big Shu attempts to defend his crown having caused a minor 14-1 shock last year. He will be the first horse since Garde Champetre in 2008 and 2009 to win it two years in a row should he be able to complete that feat.
A few key stats to be taking a look at when making a selection in this race;
• Favourites have won 2 of the 9 previous running’s of the race.
• Only A New Story (2010) and Big Shu (2013) have won at double figure prices.
• Garde Champetre and Spot Thedifference both recently won the race off top weight. Do not be put off by a horse carrying a big weight.
• Irish trainer Enda Bolger is a cross-country specialist and has won 4 of the last 9 running’s of this race with 3 different horses.
• Jockey Nina Carberry won this race 3 years in a row (2007-2009).
• British trained runners have a poor record in the race. Balthazar King is the only British trained winner of the race (2012).
Milan (13.8f) — Straight ´n Furry (IRE) (Furry Glen (12.8f))
Notes: Big Shu won this race with relative ease last year on good to soft ground and followed up over two furlongs further on heavy ground at Punchestown in April. He was a fairly late recruit to the Cross Country scene having run in Hunter Chases and Point to Point races from 2011 to early 2013. He has taken to Cross Country races like a duck to water having won two of the four races he has contested and finishing second in the other two. He finished second in his reappearance run this term, finishing with a wet sail behind Love Rory at Punchestown. The Cheltenham Cross Country race will be his main seasonal target and he is likely to be 100% on the day should he get there safe and sound. He has a big chance of winning this race two years in a row.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Afdala (IRE) (Hernando (FR ) (12.3f))
Notes: The key to this horse is good ground and he is unlikely run should the ground be soft to heavy. Assuming the ground is suitable however he is likely to be a huge threat. Philip Hobbs often targets this horse at Cheltenham’s October meeting where the ground is often still decent. He won this race in 2012 but skipped last year’s race due to unsuitable ground. He knows the course well and appears to be the leading British hope should he run. The way the weather is at the moment though this would have to be unlikely.
Winged Love (IRE) (13.7f) — Lonely Teardrop (IRE) (Spanish Place (USA))
Notes: Love Rory will be the youngest winner of this race since its inauguration in 2005 if he triumphs in March. He is only six which means he will be bucking a trend were he to win; horses aged 8 and over have won every running of the race. He appears to be trainer Enda Bolger’s latest big hope of winning the race and he is likely to be a big threat come March. Love Rory will have to defy the age stats and prove he can stay 3m7f round Cheltenham. He is two out of two in Cross Country races however and his trainer is specialises in Cross Country types. I have a feeling this may not be his year but he is likely to be a regular in this event in the coming years.
Dom Alco (FR) — Idylle Collonges (FR) (Quart De Vin (FR ))
Notes: This horse has been campaigned solely at Cheltenham for the last two years. His last two races have been over the Cross Country course and Paul Nicholls appears to have his first horse that has a serious chance of winning this race. He ground out victory last time, defeating Any Currency by half a length to record his first Cross Country victory at the second attempt. He has run most of his races in Britain on decent ground however so should the ground be soft to heavy in March there will be a question mark looming over him. There is also a doubt as to whether he will be good enough to defeat the likes of Big Shu and Balthazar King over the course. In a race lacking in real depth however he holds a chance.
Uncle Junior is an admirable veteran who has run some good races round here, winning the November Cross Country race on two occasions. He has never been able to be competitive in this race however and at the age of thirteen it is highly unlikely his time is now.
Any Currency ran his best race over course and distance last time finishing second to Sire Collonges. He is not the most consistent of horses and often takes plenty of driving in his races. He usually runs his best races on good ground as well, conditions which are looking unlikely at present. He would be a surprise winner in my opinion.
Sizing Australia has been campaigned differently this year to previous years but he is still expected to turn up and attempt to win this race for the second time. He has each way claims despite his advancing years and should not be discounted.
Chicago Grey has not looked like his old self in his last few runs and may be booked for another struggle if he turns up in March. I’d be doubtful of his ability to be competitive at this stage of his career.
Diamond Harry is not the same horse he was a few years back but he showed he could still be very competitive when departing late on at Catterick last time, travelling ominously well. He is another I would give an each way shout to. Nick Williams now uses these races for Diamond Harry and Shalimar Fromentro regularly.
The main reason I have previewed this race is because I feel it is lacking in-depth and therefore it makes the chances of picking the winner easier. All of the horses mentioned have been cross-country regulars over the years and they are all likely to run if they are sound and if ground conditions are suitable. A nagging doubt must surround the participation of Balthazar King at this stage, which will help the chances of BIG SHU an awful lot. This horse looks set to be primed for another huge run having impressed many judges on his reappearance when losing out to Love Rory. He is currently in the prime of his career and is turning into a cross-country specialist. Love Rory may find this race coming a year or two too soon but he will be a big threat in this race in the future for Enda Bolger. At bigger prices Sizing Australia and Diamond Harry still have the class to be competitive at this level.