Monday, 12 March 2012

Cross Country preview

My next guest previewer for Cheltenham is James Jack, @materialista27, taking on the most unique race at the Festival.

Glenfarclas Handicap Chase (Cross Country Chase) 3m7f Good to Firm

Traditionally one of the most exciting and confusing races of the festival run over 3 miles 7 furlongs and comprising of 32 obstacles including timber rails, hedges, a national fence and a water jump, not forgetting the infamous cheese wedges. All 7 renewals of this race have gone to Ireland and “specialist” Enda Bolger has won 4 of those including 2 with Garde Champetre. This year's field contains 3 previous winners in Garde Champetre, A New Story and the reigning champ Sizing Australia. In racecard order they are:

Uncle Junior 11-12
Willie Mullins trains a previous course and distance winner, having won the cross country event at November's Cheltenham meeting. That win came on firm ground so carrying top weight and encountering less-than-favourable ground for the other contenders shouldn't faze him. He beat Garde Champetre and Double Dizzy that day so should not be discounted and the general 4/1 available about him may be shrewd come Tuesday night.

Scotsirish 11-9
Mullins also saddles the market leader, and he looked impressive beating Garde Champetre at Punchestown, but he's never won on this side of the Irish Sea and that might not change tomorrow. It remains to be seen how suited he is to the intricacies of the Cheltenham Cross Country Course and though the obstacles are not massively different to Punchestown, the additional 7 furlongs may prove to be his downfall as he's never won further than 3 miles. Not one I'd be rushing to back.

Garde Champetre 11-8
Garde Champetre for many race-goers is the Cross Country race, winning it in 2008 and 2009. Although 13 years old now, remains in good form, though was reasonably fortunate to win the race at the Open Meeting and deserved to finish behind Scotsirish at Punchestown. He has 6 course and distance wins, and Nina Carberry is by far his favourite pilot and should galvanise him over this trip. Ground is no concern and given his previous heroics, 8/1 looks huge.

Sizing Australia 11-1
Henry De Bromhead's gelding won this race last year, and has looked nowhere near producing that effort again in his subsequent 3 starts. He fell in the 3 mile contest at the Punchestown festival then had a dabble over hurdles. His success last year looks like a one-off and he doesn't look like improving his 2/19 strike-rate over fences. Unbackable for me and the only thing holding his price together is last year's victory, Lay.

Dancing Tornado 10-13
A consistent type, and always a danger when wearing JP McManus' silks, even if trained by Michael Hourigan and not Enda Bolger, may stuggle somewhat with the ground as has been at his best in soft/heavy conditions. And although he has plenty speed, his attempt at 3m5f in the Irish National of 2010 resulted in his refusal at the final fence. Much better chances elsewhere, leave this one alone.

Balthazar King 10-9
Phillip Hobbs trains the leading English contender and given past renewals of this race, that is something akin to a chocolate teapot. Even with the addition of the most successful jumps jockey of the last 15 years that isn't AP McCoy, I don't see the wisdom in backing him. An 8 year old has never won this race, an English horse has never won this race: Balthazar King is highly unlikely to change that. I'd be surprised if he finishes within 10 lengths of the winner.

A New Story 10-9
Michael Hourigan's other runner won this in 2010, was 3rd in 2011 behind Sizing Australia and Garde Champetre, and was one of those who took the wrong course at the Open Meeting. Adrian Heskin claims 3 but he is favourably weighted to go close to his last 2 performances at the festival. Eminently backable at 20s and one for the tricasts.

Double Dizzy 10-8
Bob Buckler brings his Sussex National winner for another tilt at this type of race, he's had some measure of success, finishing 3rd to Uncle Junior in November, but ground is unlikely to suit and his last spin round Cheltenham resulted in a very lengthy defeat to Garde Champetre. Unless the heavens open tonight and flood the track, this one's a loser.

Midnight Haze 10-7
Kim Bailey's gelding has picked up a few lower class races, but never over this trip and never tried on anything firmer than good. Not looked like getting anywhere near closing the 19lb gap on Uncle Junior and I'd expect him to be pulled up at some point.

Fortification 10-6
This 9 year old is now with Keiran Burke having seen 6 different yards in the last 4 years. Looked profilic and progressive with Gerald Ham but had stuttered since then however was back to winning ways last time out, albeit a mere 3 weeks ago over 3m5f. Denis O'Regan takes the ride and if retaining some juice in the tank, could be in with a shout of a place.

Jacks Island 10-5
Has shown best form over 3 miles in heavier conditions that what he is likely to face tomorrow. Produced a career best last time out to finish 16 lengths behind Scotsirish. The bookmakers tend to think this one is here to make up the numbers and give punters 4 places in the Placepot. I'm inclined to agree.

Maljimar 10-5
Has spent the last year in France and Belgium honing his Cross Country skills, and has the ability to shed the tag of “the horse McCoy chinned on the line on Wichita Lineman” reasonably well weighted, only 2lbs higher than last year, and if James Reveley can keep him interested all the way to the finish, he should be there or thereabouts.

Tally Em Up 10-5
Was 3rd to Scotsirish and Garde Champetre at Punchestown when struggling to stay 3 miles on heavy ground which appears to be her favourite surface. Has failed to win on her last 18 starts over the last 2 years. Expect that to be extended to 19 runs tomorrow because she won't win this. Rated 132 after her 'latest' win in Jan 2010, has steadily dropped to 102 and may drop further in the future.

Dream Alliance 10-4
Won the Welsh National in 2009 and has barely beaten a horse since. Finished 8th in the race last year and that was his first completion since winning at Chepstow. Has chances, but only if 12 other horses fall or unseat.

Wedger Paddy 10-1
Last outing was when taking the wrong course in the Cross Country at the Open Meeting. Might have been in with a chance if going the right way, expect this one to make the running and try to steal the race from the front. Also expect him to be passed after 2 out and finish 6th or 7th.

Gone To Lunch 10-0
Sneaks into the race and as the Desert Orchid Chase winner and twice Scottish National runner up, so trip is not a concern, untested on Good to Firm, but if he can show that he retains some of that ability and manages to jump well, could be and unlikely place chance.

Selections

Uncle Junior
A New Story
Garde Champetre
Maljimar
Fortification
Gone To Lunch
Scotsirish
Wedger Paddy
Sizing Australia
Balthazar King
Double Dizzy
Dancing Tornado
Jacks Island
Dream Alliance

PU : Midnight Haze, Tally Em Up


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