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Cross Country Chase

A unique race that is run over just shy of four miles and not over the conventional jumps. Reminiscent of the origins of the sport, the jumps resemble traditional hedges and obstacles that horses would have jumped over whilst running between the steeples of two churches, hence the name steeplechase. Some of the famous obstacles include a bank that horses are to jump up, run along and then jump down from, and a cheesewedge which is similar to the bank. It requires a brave, athletic horse as some of the jumps are over 7ft drops. Some horses really take to them, others, understandably not so much. Last year it was won by a horse that has definitely taken to them, Tiger Roll, who was winning the race for no less than the third time. Sandwiched between his last two victories, a good second to Easysland on unfavoured soft ground.

At the head of the market Tiger Roll is around 4/1 joint favourite with Prengarde, a brilliant French Cross Country import bought by JP McManus. Tiger Roll has had two runs this year, a below par run in the Many Clouds chase, though I wouldn't take that form literally as he was clearly a non-trier. His most recent run was in a handicap hurdle where he finished 14th of 17, but actually ran well for a long way and looked to be enjoying himself. It's a similar campaign to his last season where he finished last in a hurdles race before showing his best form back at Cheltenham. I personally think he will be bang there and should be a little shorter in the betting. The JP horse, Prengarde, is unbeaten in cross country events, racking up 5 straight wins in that sphere. How well the form translates we aren't sure yet, but he's been winning well and is the main danger to Tiger Roll. I read today that he faces a race to be fit in time for Cheltenham and wouldn't run without a prep run first, a sensible decision for a young horse with 5 plus years ahead of him.

Ajas, 10/1, is another French horse that was well backed for the race last year, but due to covid restrictions preventing the owners from coming over, he stayed in France. I really liked him last year, but he hasn't run in nearly a year and I would be surprised if he were even to run in the race. Easysland is 10/1 too and has recently moved over to Jonjo Oneill from France and he previously won the race two years ago. His hurdles run recently was very poor, but if you forgive Tiger Roll for his lesser runs, it would be hypocritical to not allow the same for Easysland. He will be much better over these obstacles anyway, and if the ground were in any way soft or heavy, he would have a brilliant chance. Next in the market is Shady Operator who won his first cross country start in November, beating stablemate Midnight Maestro (25/1). The two were the 1-2 this weekend at Punchestown with Midnight Maestro reversing the form. It's worth noting that Midnight Maestro didn't take to the fences at Cheltenham when he ran there in November and was well beaten. Shady Operator could be a decent each-way play, though.

The next few in the betting I don't think will run here, Coko Beach, Escaria Ten and Flouer all look set to run in handicap chases, or be saved for shots at the Irish/Aintree Nationals. Farclas hasn't had a recent run so might take this race in en route to another shot at the National where he was a strong fifth last year. He surprised me that day with how well he stayed and was a good second to Run Wild Fred in a competitive handicap on his most recent run. I've actually backed him Ante Post myself for this and wouldn't put anybody off, though his lack of cross country experience could cost him. I also don't expect Kitty's Light, 16/1, to run here. Similarly I've put a line through Saint Godefroy, 16/1, a French horse who hasn't run since November 2020. Diesel Dallier and Back On The Lash won the two equivalent races at the November and December meetings. Of the two I prefer Diesel Dallier as BOTL was well beaten in the December meeting off 141 and now facing better horses off level weights, he may struggle. I'd argue the same about Diesel Dallier as he has a bit to find on official ratings. He does however have decent form in France and with only two runs so far in this country, may still have room for improvement.

Next, we have stablemates Mortal and Samcro. Samcro has lots of back class but I don't expect him to turn up over nearly four miles, Mortal ran a decent enough race over the course in December and could run a big race here at 20/1, though I think he'll find a couple too good. Others in the market at bigger prices include last years shock Irish National winner Freewheelin Dylan, previous Gold Cup second Santini, previous festival winner La Breuil and November Cross Country second Singing Banjo.

My weekly Ante Post selections include two at double figure prices. Unfortunately neither will be running and we start the race with a 2pt loss to try and recoup.

Galvin - Cross Country 12/1 1pt win (07/06/2021)

Balko Des Flos - Cross Country - 10/1 0.5pts each way (06/12/2021)

It's safe to say that Galvin is more than good enough to win this race, it's just a shame that he's even better than I expected and is now second favourite for the Gold Cup. Balko Des Flos had ran some cracking races off huge weights in the course and distance handicap versions of this race, I really liked his chance off level weights here, but he sustained an injury and unfortunately won't be running.

Putting those disappointments behind me, I have two selections here one win bet and one each way shot. The win bet is Tiger Roll at 4/1, the National Hunt legend needs no introduction and he is now looking to win this for the fourth time. As long as the ground doesn't come up too soft he has the measure of Easysland. He showed he retains a love of the game in his recent hurdles run, regardless of his finishing position he ran well for a long way. He'll have been fine tuned for this and is a real specialist in this race. 4/1 is a huge price and I'll play a 2pt win bet, they may even retire him after the race. The each way selection I'll be backing is Singing Banjo at 50/1. He was in brilliant form at the end of last season, winning twice in three days at the Punchestown Festival, including the Le Touche Cup which included last years Cheltenham Cross Country 3rd, Some Neck. He then won a handicap chase taking his form to three straight wins. This year he came back and ran in the November Cross Country race finishing a brilliant second in a photo finish, that came off of the highest mark of his career and showed he both stayed the trip and got on with the Cheltenham course. He ran after that in the December renewal and made a few uncharacteristic mistakes leaving him out of the race, he faded and only managed 7th that day. I'm willing to forgive that as he is usually sound in the jumping department especially over the non standard banks course at Punchestown and seemed to jump well over course and distance the first time. In the last four or five renewals there have been nearly as many non finishers as there have been finishers, so I like to back one at a big price that I know can get round and cope with the unique fences. This bet will be a 0.5pt each way selection.

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