2021 Cheltenham Festival – French Raider Can Make Successful Cross-Country Chase Raid

Tiger Roll jumps on the cross country chase at CheltenhamTiger Roll jumps on the cross country chase at Cheltenham

2021 Cross Country Chase Tips

This is the last in Lewis Tomlinson’s ante-post previews for the big meeting, which is just two weeks away. Here’s his take on the cross-country chase, one of the races in day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival.

Cross Country Overview

Up until last season, France had gone more than a decade without plundering a prize at National Hunt racing’s most prestigious meeting; Francois Doumen’s 2005 Albert Bartlett winner Moulin Riche being the last horse to produce a successful Cheltenham raid before a fourteen year dry spell.

Key Contenders – Easysland

The drought was ended last year, though, by Easysland, who came cross-channel to take the Cross-Country and break the hearts of the Festival faithful who had pinned their hopes on Tiger Roll achieving a hat-trick in the race, and a fifth at the meeting overall.

The market expects Easysland to defend his crown this season, and it’s easy enough to see why many look towards him as one of the biggest certainties of the meeting. The manner of his victory last season was utterly brutal, as Tiger Roll, previously so dominant in this event, was mauled by his four-year younger rival.

There were no excuses for the former champion; David Cottin’s horse looked more comfortable at every stage of the race than Tiger Roll and still had enough left in the tank to put further distance between the pair on the run in. If Easysland runs to below 10lb that level, never mind replicating that, he will win. 

He does have a few questions to answer, though. Easysland’s defeat when fourth in the cross-country handicap here in November was his first in seven starts and even allowing for the welter-burden he was giving away to the majority of rivals, was slightly underwhelming.

He also missed his intended prep run at Pau after contracting rhinovirus, so things certainly haven’t flowed as smoothly this year as David Cottin would’ve liked. He remains the standard setter, but it’s a short enough price about a horse who clearly hasn’t had things go his way in the run up to the Festival.

Tiger Roll

Tiger Roll also underwhelmed in that November race and looks regressive nowadays, emptying quickly in the Boyne Hurdle last time, albeit on ground that clearly didn’t suit him. Nevertheless, the four-time Festival hero looks nothing like the force of old and nothing he’s done in the last eighteen months would give you much confidence.

I think he’s the worst price of the entire Festival; last season’s showing would give him no chance of turning the tables with Easysland and his performances in the meantime have inspired no confidence.

Ajas

David Cottin’s second-string Ajas  has been mixing hurdling with chasing to good effect across the past year, failing to finish outside the first two in seven starts. He was able to win a Grade 3 at Pau on his most recent start over fences, and he wasn’t stopping at the finish after being upped to 3m2f for the first time.

He’s also won over a mile shorter than that trip this season, so clearly doesn’t lack for pace, and looks to be improving in this sphere from run to run.

Potters Corner

Former Welsh National and Midlands National hero Potters Corner (7-1) is one of the best handicap chasers to try their hand at cross-country racing for several years, and it was pleasing to see him take the discipline when third in the handicap over course and distance in November.

He may lack the speed of the French raiders, but I think he’s a particularly solid, straightforward animal who possesses more than enough ability to mix it here and I wouldn’t put anyone off siding with him.

Other contenders

Cross-country maestro Enda Bolger has Shady Operator (10-1), who looked a natural over the banks at Punchestown last time out, whilst I wouldn’t rule out John McConnell’s Some Neck (16-1), who was a Graded level performer for Willie Mullins as a novice chaser and looked to be rejuvenated by the cross-country course here back in December.

Cross-Country Chase Big-Race Verdict

A primed Easysland would take a lot of stopping in a race of this nature, but he’s very skinny price for a horse who has a few question marks to answer, and therefore I’ll be looking for something to hit the frame at an each-way price here.

Potters Corner is a particularly steady option, and I think he’s likely to be in the first four, but the up-and-coming AJAS might be a likelier winner. He’s a clinical jumper in the midst of a fruitful campaign and looks to have a useful cruising speed for a horse who stayed 3m2f last time out without a problem.

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