Balthazar King gunning for third win in Cross Country Chase

If there is to be a fairytale winner at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, then a third victory in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase today for Balthazar King is likely to be it.
Balthazar King gunning for third win in Cross Country Chase

After winning the race in both 2014 and 2012 a decision was made to skip the three-mile-six-furlong prize last year in favour of keeping him fresh for the Crabbie’s Grand National.

Having finished second in the Aintree showpiece in 2014, the 12-year-old made it only as far as the Canal Turn in last year’s race, in the process suffering several broken ribs and putting his career in the balance.

In a testament to both the character of the horse and the patience of his owners and trainer Philip Hobbs, the popular veteran will now bid to claim his ninth - and most significant - course victory at Cheltenham on his long-awaited return to action after almost a year off.

With his regular rider Richard Johnson, who has partnered him to victory on 15 occasions, believing he represents one of his best chances of the entire meeting, the signs suggest that a big run is in store.

Johnson said: “He is fantastic order and feels brilliant at home so I couldn’t be happier. It’s all systems go.

“He loves it around Cheltenham, especially around the cross-country course. I can’t see why he shouldn’t run a massive race. He is probably one of my best rides of the week.

“I’d have lots of good rides for the Hobbs yard. None of them are going to be favourite and to be fair to Balthazar he has done it and got the T-shirt.

“In the form he feels at home, I’d like to think he has got a great chance.

“I’ve sat on him three or four times at home, I’ve schooled him twice and he feels in great order.

“I think it’s a massive credit to the owners who have done most of the rehab on him after he came back from the vets, and down at Philip’s yard he is obviously a bit of a pet there now as he has been such a great horse.

“They’ve worked hard on giving him every chance to come back. Every check possible has been done as no one wants to see him run unless he is 100 per cent right.

“He is a fighter, that’s been his nature all his life. To win at the Festival three times would be amazing, so it’s fingers crossed.”

Although Minehead handler Hobbs is taking a cautious approach regarding the chances of Balthazar King given the injury he sustained, he is still optimistic he can put in a bold show.

He said: “There’s a little bit of a doubt about his lung capacity having had broken ribs at Aintree and there’s a little bit of a dent in his side.

“Having said that, his work has been just as good as ever it was and he seems in very good form.

“His schooling has been good, so I hope he can run to his best, but he is a year older.”

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