King to rule in Cross Country
Man On The Spot previews day one of Cheltenham's Open meeting and fancies Balthazar King to go in again.
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There has been no stopping Standing Ovation lately and a five-timer certainly isn't out of the question as he appeared to beat Alfie Spinner with plenty in hand in a Listed handicap at Wincanton last week. But the drop in distance may not be ideal on faster going and he also has a penalty to contend with. Ruben Cotter faces a stiff task under top weight on his reappearance but Mr Moss will strip fitter for a run over hurdles at Kempton and Hunters Lodge is only 3lb higher than when successful over track and trip four weeks ago but the fourth and fifth, Handy Andy and Fredo, both have a chance of reversing that form while Imperial Circus is heading in the right direction judged on his win at Ludlow. Jamie Codd rides VICTRIX GALE for Tony Martin and his seven-year-old can take advantage of a lowly chase mark having been in good form over hurdles over the summer.
EASTLAKE was a very progressive chaser last season and continued where he'd left off in the spring by beating Anay Turge on his reappearance at Aintree. We're loathe to desert Jonjo O'Neill's seven-year-old so, despite another career-high mark, he gets the nod ahead of Fontwell scorer Tindaro and Parsnip Pete, who won over hurdles at Southwell last month. Theatrical Star was third over 2m1f at Chepstow last time but is generally better over further and Joe Tizzard prefers stablemate Sew On Target. Oh Crick is well handicapped nowadays but his recent strike-rate is off-putting while De Faoithesdream was well beaten the last time he was tried in this higher grade. Ballygarvey beat Renard, Gus Macrae and Oh Crick at Chepstow in February but hasn't raced since April.
This looks a fascinating clash between Taquin Du Seuil and OSCAR WHISKY. We're coming down on the side of Nicky Henderson's classy eight-year-old who could be a little clumsy over hurdles but is likely to show these fences more respect. He may not have the scope of Jonjo O'Neill's easy Ffos Las winner, who was also a smart hurdler, but the fact that he gets 5lb today is very much in his favour, as is the good ground. The Romford Pele made the well-regarded Balder Success pull out all the stops at Chepstow and is clearly no slouch. He should be winning soon but The Cockney Mackem is often a law unto himself and has almost refused to race on a couple of occasions. He won't be able to give any of his rivals a start here.
This is a very competitive handicap as several of these have already won races this term. God's Own made amends for an unlucky run at Chepstow when winning at Kempton earlier this month but now carries a penalty. Killala Quay steps out of novice company for the first time in pursuit of his hat-trick while Warden Hill also makes his first appearance in a handicap. Upswing tries his luck at a higher level, as does Angles Hill, but Thomas Crapper won a decent contest over track and trip last month and may have improved over the summer. Robin Dickin's charge was pulled up at Sandown in March, however, in a Listed race in which WHISPER finished fourth. The top weight went on to beat the useful Valdez here, with the pair clear of the third, and could eventually prove a cut above these. Top Gamble and Atlantic Roller are others with scope while Kaylif Aramis was a good third at Chepstow when finishing ahead of Hold Court. He makes more appeal than Handazan over this trip.
BALTHAZAR KING won a competitive handicap, for the second year running, over the regulation fences here last month and is favoured by the weights in this. The cross-country obstacles will hold no fears for Philip Hobbs' charge as he won the big race on the inside course at The Festival in 2012 and also landed a big race over unconventional fences in France in September. Uncle Junior has won this for the last two years but appeared to lose plot in the second half of last season. Chicago Grey won a Grade 2 at Navan in February and is a classy stayer on his day but how he'll take to these fences is anybody's guess. Gullible Gordon and Diamond Harry are also best watched while Sire Collonges and Any Currency probably have a bit to find at the weights. Enda Bolger used to farm these events but Zest For Life and Quiscover Fontaine look up against it on today's terms.
Rosie Probert showed no signs of ring-rustiness at Stratford and has now won her last four starts on the Flat and over hurdles. Three Kingdoms won over a longer trip at Wetherby on his return but Vibrato Valtat needs to find plenty on his second at Newton Abbot in the spring, though Daryl Jacob prefers him to unlucky Wincanton runner-up Maxi Chop. Quick Jack had a bit in hand at Listowel and should have more to offer but Falcarragh's winning run came to an end at Market Rasen in September and the handicapper probably has his measure now. LITTLE POP made all for an easy victory at Uttoxeter and can continue on an upward curve by landing this for the Twiston-Davies yard as Deep Trouble looks less well treated on his handicap bow. Just When may also struggle off a high enough mark and McCoy's mount Edmaaj has been very disappointing so far.