Cheltenham November Meeting – Cross Country Cracker in Store
Cross Country Chase Runner-By-Runner Guide
The Cross Country course at Cheltenham has become one of the most recognisable in the country. It’s back in use again on Friday and a field of 13 have been declared for the 3m6f handicap.
BALKO DES FLOS
BALKO DES FLOS was a faller on his Cross Country debut back in March, but he was reportedly enjoying himself plenty during the race. His liking for unusual tests was proven when he then finished second in the Grand National and while he’ll have to concede a stone or more to his 12 rivals, he definitely has a class edge.
It looked as though TALKISCHEAP had the world at his feet when he won the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in 2019. He hasn’t won since, but he definitely has the requisite stamina and ran his best race for a long time when second at Perth in June. Decent ground would be very useful to him.
FREEWHEELIN DYLAN pulled off the biggest shock of last season when winning the Irish Grand National at 150/1. He’d previously been seen as a specialist at the smaller track of Kilbeggan, but he’s run two very good races since the Irish National and can be competitive attempting this new test.
ALPHA DES OBEAUX
He’s officially only rated 133, so is 11lbs worse off at Cheltenham, but, there’s every chance ALPHA DES OBEAUX is now being retrained as a Cross Country specialist. He was fourth at the Festival, but then only sixth in the Punchestown equivalent and his recent form is a concern.
It’s not been plain sailing for POTTERS CORNER since he won the Welsh Grand National in December 2019. His four results in 2017 have been especially concerning, but he ran very well on his only start in this sphere last season and this renewal might be a bit less competitive than a year ago.
BAK ON THE LASH
BACK ON THE LASH is still only a novice, but his three wins over the summer suggested a horse who could do some damage in staying races. The test he faced most recently at Cheltenham was probably too sharp, though he is high enough in the ratings against some much more experienced chasers here.
PLAN OF ATTACK
PLAN OF ATTACK had a disappointing season just gone and Henry de Bromhead turns to the unique banks to try and draw more from him. His two runs at Cheltenham in the Kim Muir have been encouraging and he fell when still travelling well in that contest in March. His mark is the same and if he takes to this, he might have an excellent chance.
DIESEL D’ALLIER joined Richard Bandey’s yard in Hampshire at the weekend. He was campaigned exclusively in France when with Emmanuel Clayeux last season, but the grey revelled in this test when winning this race in 2019. He is 12lbs higher now, but would cary 2lbs less due to Balko Des Flos’ presence and he’s very dangerous.
5lbs out the handicap. Sheila Lewis’ seven-year-old VOLCANO has won four times in the last 12 months, his best coming over 3m5f at Warwick in March. The cobwebs will have been blown away over hurdles last month, but this will be easily his toughest level of opposition yet.
8lbs out the handicap. FOX PRO is one of those unbelievably frustrating horses who doesn’t know how to win. He’s been second in six of his nine chase starts without winning any. If he finishes second in this, connections would be delighted.
SINGING BANJO is officially 47lbs out the handicap, but he’s a point-to-pointer at heart, so those figures don’t feature. He won over Punchestown’s banks against fellow hunter chasers twice in the space of three days, so he knows how to handle these conditions. He’d be tailed off in a regular handicap, but this is his territory and he’s most fancied of the outsiders.
FRIENDS DON’T ASK
21lbs out the handicap. Most telling form is that he was pulled up in Newcastle’s Eider Chase in February off 11lbs lower than he’ll have for this race. WIll find himself chasing shadows unless he loves the surroundings.
30lbs out the handicap. Beaten nearly 30 lengths off 108 at Wetherby last month. Would be a massive surprise if he were remotely in touch closing in.
BIG RACE VERDICT
The ex-French trained DIESEL D’ALLIER won this race in 2019 and while his mark is higher, he’ll carry 2lbs less. The course experience he has may prove invaluable. Grand National runner-up Balko Des Flos is dangerous off top-weight, as is 2019 Welsh National winner Potters Corner. Singing Banjo is the most appealing of the outsiders.