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Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase runners - Balthazar King seeks Cheltenham fairytale

Jon Wilde in Wed. 15th March 15 Mar 2016
  • A field of 16 will contest the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Wednesday
  • Get the latest news on runners in this Cheltenham Festival race
Richard Johnson riding Balthazar King to victory (credit: Cheltenhampro.com)

Balthazar King goes in search of what would be a fairytale victory at the Cheltenham Festival when he seeks a third triumph in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Wednesday.

After winning the race in 2012 and 2014, a decision was made to skip the three miles six furlongs prize last year in favour of keeping Balthazar King fresh for the Aintree Grand National.

Having finished second in the world’s greatest steeplechase in 2014, the now 12-year-old made it only as far as the Canal Turn last year, in the process suffering several broken ribs and putting his career in the balance.

In a testament to both the character of the horse and the patience of his owners and trainer Philip Hobbs, the popular veteran will now bid to claim a ninth - and most significant - course victory at Cheltenham on his long-awaited return to action after almost a year off.

With his regular rider Richard Johnson, who has partnered him to victory 15 times, believing he represents one of his best chances of the meeting, the signs suggest a big run is in store.

Johnson said:
“He is in fantastic order and feels brilliant at home so I couldn't be happier. It's all systems go. 
“He loves it around Cheltenham, especially the cross-country course. I can't see why he won’t run a massive race. He is probably one of my best rides of the week. 
“In the form he feels in at home, I'd like to think he has a great chance. I've sat on him three or four times at home, schooled him twice and he feels in great order. 
“I think it's a massive credit to the owners who have done most of the rehab with him after he came back from the vets, and down at Philip's yard he is obviously a bit of a pet there now as he has been such a great horse. 
“They have worked hard on giving him every chance to come back. Every check possible has been done as nobody wants to see him run unless he is 100% right. 
“He’s a fighter, that's been his nature all his life. To win at the Festival three times would be amazing.”

Although Minehead-based handler Hobbs is taking a cautious approach regarding the chances of Balthazar King given the injury he sustained, he is still optimistic he can put in a bold show.

Hobbs said:
“There's a bit of a doubt about his lung capacity having had broken ribs at Aintree and there's a bit of a dent in his side. But his work has been as good as ever and he seems in very good form. 
“His schooling has been good so I hope he can run to his best, but he is a year older and does have that slight doubt having had his ribs broken and the slightly reduced size of his lungs. But I don't think that’s an issue or we wouldn't be running.”

While victory for Balthazar King would be special, a win for Martin Keighley-trained Any Currency would also be greeted with a warm welcome as the 13-year-old has occupied the runner-up spot in this race for the last two seasons.

Keighley said:
“I know he's 13 now but I honestly couldn't be happier with him at home. He seems in great form - I don't think I could have him any better. 
“Experience around there is vital, I think, and he obviously has that. After finishing second the last two years, it would be fantastic if he can go one better.”

Sire Collonges has become a regular participant in cross-country races held at the track in recent seasons and although the horse is without a win over this course since 2013, trainer Paul Nicholls is confident he has him in good shape for the race.

Nicholls said:
“It will help him with it not being a handicap. He has run very well there in the past. He slipped up the first time, then we just kept him to train him for that one race. He is in good shape and will be fit for it.”

Last year the prize headed back across the Irish Sea courtesy of victory for Tony Martin-trained Rivage D'Or, who takes his chance again, while Gordon Elliott will also bid to keep the prize across the water with Bless The Wings.

Elliott said:
“He has been placed around there twice. The owners sponsor the yard, he's been second in the Kim Muir and he likes the place. If he finishes in the first four or five it will be a great run.”


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Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase runners - Balthazar King seeks Cheltenham fairytale

Balthazar King goes in search of what would be a fairytale victory at the Cheltenham Festival when he seeks a third triumph in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Wednesday.

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