The Inside Track on the Cross Country Handicap Chase
The last three winners of this cross-country handicap chase Big Shu, Balthazar King and Sizing Australia are all likely to be in the field again this year and with the race restricted to just 16 starters, many of the less well-known entries will be struggling to make the cut.
Sizing Australia is a 12-year-old now and no longer seems to be the force of old so, while he might still be up to running into a place, a second race victory looks beyond him.
Balthazar King has been a revelation since switched to race over these obstacles by Philip Hobbs, but he has an 11lb higher mark than when he won the race in 2012 to overcome and if the cross-country track doesn’t dry out sufficiently over the next few days, Hobbs may not allow him to take his chance.
Last year’s winner Big Shu is currently favourite for this year’s race and the gelding, who won a second major banks prize last season when landing the La Touche Cup at Punchestown after his
Cheltenham heroics, has an obvious chance of winning again.
He probably wasn’t fully tuned up when beaten at Punchestown on his seasonal reappearance so that isn’t a serious concern, but he just seems a short enough price now given that the handicapper has raised his mark by 11lb since last year and he’ll now be giving weight away to most of his rivals.
Enda Bolger has won four of the previous nine runnings of this race so his challengers are obviously worth paying serious attention to. Love Rory has won a Risk Of Thunder Chase and a P.P. Hogan Memorial Chase over the Punchestown banks so should cope with these obstacles.
However, the handicapper has taken a harsh view of his latest success where the horse benefitted from a clever tactical ride from Nina Carberry and as a result it’s hard to claim that Love Rory is well treated.
Quantitativeeasing appears to have been rejuvenated following his move to Bolger, but while it wouldn’t surprise if the JP McManus-owned horse was well supported on the day, he wouldn’t be one for me over this sort of extreme trip and I’d see Quiscover Fontaine as the more solid McManus challenger.
There has been some money around for Bolger’s fourth entry Star Neuville this week but he is going to need some withdrawals to make the field and could easily be balloted out.
I would have been tempted to make Boxer Georg my selection in the race, but the handicapper has overlooked his Punchestown banks form and given him such a ludicrously lenient mark that the horse has no chance of making it into the final field!
As a result I’ve opted for ANY CURRENCY who now seems to be getting the hang of cross-country racing after having been well beaten in this race last season on his banks debut. In November, on his second outing over this course, he finished six lengths behind Balthazar King when third and he now meets that rival on 15lb better terms.
Then here on his most recent run over the cross-country obstacles in December he finished best of all having been slightly hampered around the final bend to be beaten half a length by Sire Collonges.
He is a horse that needs everything to fall just right for him, but he will be very hard to keep out of the places and at a double-figure price I feel he also represents value in the win market.
Given his current price I feel it could also be worth a small investment on A Stray Shot. This unexposed seven-year-old (who is out of a Ladies Perpetual Cup winner) represents unfashionable connections but has shaped very promisingly on his two runs over banks at Punchestown and also landed a point-to-point run over banks at Tattersalls Farm in December.
On his most recent start he was taken very wide off the home bend in the P.P. Hogan Memorial Chase by Katie Walsh, who was riding the gelding for the first time, but kept on well behind Love Rory and Big Shu and he now meets that pair on improved terms.
We can’t be sure how A Stray Shot will take to Cheltenham or if his improvement will be continued, but that is more than factored into his current price and in a race full of exposed performers he makes plenty of each-way appeal as a lively outsider.
Selection: Any Currency
Alternative: A Stray Shot