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Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

Is Big Shu a good tip for Cross Country Chase? Full preview, trends and tips here

Big Shu a good tip for Cross Country Chase?

Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

One of my favourite races, and certainly the only handicap in which I'd contemplate betting ante-post is the Cross Country Handicap Chase. For some, it's a meaningless charade in the middle of the main arena. I certainly wouldn't agree with that: not from a sporting sense, and unequivocally not from a betting sense. For me, this is one of the best betting events of the week.

Why? Because it's the only handicap run all week where most of the entries cannot win. They're either too slow, or they don't stay, or they can't handle the course configuration, or they can't handle the fences. Lovely stuff. Get the red pen out and let's start striking lines through entries until we're left with a wager...

Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Trends

Although this will only be the tenth renewal of the race, some key trends are manifesting themselves already.

Age: The Cross Country Chase has seen runners from age six to fifteen, but all nine winners have been between eight and twelve. However, horses aged eight to fourteen have placed. The youngsters have yet to make the frame, and are generally not strong enough to see out this marathon three-and-seven-eighths of a mile stamina test.

Last time out: Seven of the nine winners finished in the top four last time out. Of the other two, Balthazar King ran out over the same course when virtually certain to finish in the top four; and Sizing Australia finished eighth in a hurdle race over two miles (i.e. half this trip!) on his prior start.

Cross country course experience: Ever since the magnificent Spot Thedifference claimed the inaugural Cross Country Chase, winners have had previous experience of cross country races. Spot Thedifference had won the equivalent race at the November meeting on his previous run. The following year, Native Jack won the PP Hogan, Ireland's number one cross country race. Heads Onthe Ground and Garde Champetre also took the PP Hogan before the latter doubled up having this time claimed the November cross country race at Cheltenham. Spotting a theme yet? 😉

In 2010, A New Story, placed in the La Touche Cup - a similar 'banks' race over four and a quarter miles - won at 25/1. He wasn't a winner last time out of a key prep, but he had run seventh in the previous year's race. Sizing Australia landed the spoils in 2011 after placing in the November version; and in 2012, Balthazar King looked likely to go very close to winning before taking the wrong course along with a number of other horses. Last year, Big Shu was second in the PP Hogan before winning this event. He finished second again in the PP Hogan this year...

So... do NOT excuse a horse without cross country form. It has everything to prove.

Weight: Weight is generally a factor in all Cheltenham handicaps, with low weights favoured in most non-novice and/or non-amateur rider handicaps. Here, two top weights have won carrying a burdensome 11-12. The other seven lugged less than eleven stone.

Position in market: Seven of the nine winners were in the top three in the betting. And sixteen of the 27 horses in the top three in the betting have at least placed in this race.

It looks then like we're searching for a horse with top notch cross country form; aged eight to twelve; from the top of the market; and either a classy sort carrying top weight or a lightly weighted 'springer'.

The top three in the betting currently are Big Shu (Official Rating likely to be around 145), Balthazar King (Official Rating 150), and Love Rory (Official Rating 117, but subject to upward revision).

Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Preview

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When considering the form profiles for this race, it makes sense to focus on cross country experience. It is a feature, to a lesser or greater degree, in many of the runners' profiles, so we ought to commence at the head of the market.

Big Shu ran second on heavy ground in last year's PP Hogan Memorial Chase before going on to hose up in this. He won by four lengths, with fully ten back to the third horse, Outlaw Pete. To put that into perspective, fourteen lengths - the gap back to the third - covered the first six home in 2012, and in 2011 (OK, it was 15L then); and the first seven in 2010.

Only the lovable Garde Champetre, winner in 2008 and 2009, showed such dominance, and it may be no coincidence that Big Shu is going for a double this year.

After his win at Cheltenham, Big Shu went back to Punchestown and won their Festival banks race, the La Touche Cup. This time, despite being clear turning in, he clambered over the last a tired horse, and stopped to a walk on the run in, just holding on. That was under 12-03 and over four and a quarter miles on heavy ground, a more extreme test of weight, distance and going than he's going to face at Cheltenham.

He earned himself a good break after that, and only re-emerged on 2nd February for this year's PP Hogan. Fat as a pig, he drifted as though victory was out of the question, but - aided by a pedestrian gallop - was able to claim a noble second place, the exact position he took last year in the same race, to Love Rory. It was an extremely satisfactory prep for the defence of his Glenfarclas Cross Country crown and, while he's certain to have more weight this time, he has an absolutely bombproof profile and I like him. A lot.

With that potential spoiler for the rest of the form plot out in the open, allow me to demonstrate why I believe Big Shu has more robust claims than the rest, starting with Balthazar King.

I am a huge fan of Balthazar King, and his record at Cheltenham reads 22F42511PR11211. That string includes a win in the 2012 version of the Glenfarclas, and a second place in the November equivalent in the same year. He missed the race last year due to the ground not being fast enough, and I'm pretty sure the trainer will take the same decision this term if necessary. So, whilst he's a definite player on good to soft or quicker, he's a likely non-runner on soft or slower.

Funnily enough, the official going last year - after BK was pulled - was... good to soft! If he runs, he's a horse I will be saving on. If he doesn't, there's every chance Big Shu will be around the 5/2 - 3/1 mark. He's currently 9/2 at time of writing.

Love Rory is trained by Enda Bolger, a man with unparalleled skill at readying one for this race. Indeed, he's won it four times from 24 starters, with another five horses placed. This lad - Love Rory, not Enda - is the future, but there's a feeling this comes a year too soon despite his PP Hogan triumph the last day.

Still just a six year old, he has had four runs in cross country races already, with form figures of 0711. But he's yet to race beyond three miles, and this is the best part of another mile on top. Moreover, his two length margin over (very) Big Shu last time will surely be reversed with the latter stripping seven to ten pounds fitter this time.

In his defence, Love Rory has yet to prove he doesn't stay nigh on four miles, and he's clearly improving rapidly in this sphere. He looks Bolger's best chance in the race for a couple of years at least, since the tragic death in the race of Garde Champetre, something which still angers me now as it was avoidable (the course was like a road that year, and favourite Scotsirish also broke down and was killed). But I'm taking him on due my contention that Big Shu's greater fitness this time, and Love Rory's unproven stamina will reverse placings.

Sire Collonges was Paul Nicholls' first winner in a cross country race (I think), when winning the December race over course and distance. That was a race missing Big Shu and Balthazar King, and he'd been royally seen off by BK in his previous two starts, including over course and distance. That December contest looked shallow, and I'd be quite shocked if Sire Collonges was able to beat that proven pair. The one possible fly in the ointment is that soft ground might actually improve his level of form.

On the rare occasions he's run on sodden turf, he's performed with credit - second to Our Father in a novice event; third in a fair big field handicap hurdle; and an easy win on debut in France.

Any Currency comes next, and his form with Sire Collonges means he can't win either. More to the point, his form with Balthazar King means he can't win. He had no excuses when thumped 26 lengths by Big Shu last year either. Might plug on into the frame but highly unlikely to win.

Quantitiveeasing has changed stables and is now trained by Enda Bolger. On his first run for his new handler he ran a massive second in the Galway Plate behind RSA Chase-bound Carlingford Lough. Since then, he's had a very low key prep for this - unsighted in a big field Listowel handicap chase, then third of seven in a point-to-point. The fact that Bolger has the banks fences at his training facility mitigates a lack of cross country experience, and he's certainly one of the more intriguing runners. 12/1 might reward each way support.

Uncle Junior is too old and too slow, and it looks highly probable that he's a bleeder these days: confirmed burst blood vessel in one of three P's in his last six runs, alongside a fall, an unplaced effort, and a good second to BK after a six month layoff. Bleeders often perform best after a layoff. This fellow ran at the start of February and I'd imagine he's cast iron place lay material if he even lines up. I hope he doesn't: at thirteen, he owes connections nothing.

Star Neuville hasn't run since last April and has never run well first time after a break.

Sizing Australia is interesting. Winner of this race in 2011, he's also won the Irish Field Chase, a Punchestown cross country race. Now twelve, he actually won a two mile handicap hurdle last October, and was a good second to Love Rory in the Risk Of Thunder Chase (another Punchy cross country event). He's finished 11th, 1st, 4th, and 5th in this race in the last four years, and had a nice spin over hurdles the other day. 16/1 each way is all right.

Of the French contingent, Pasquini Rouge is filed under 'extremely interesting'. Third in the December race won by Sire Collonges, he was a sitting duck in front from a long way out and will surely be ridden with more restraint this time. There's also an argument to say that he'll be fitter in March, as that last time out effort looked to be a 'sighter' for the Festival. If I'm right about either of those two points, he could make the frame. If I'm right about both, he might even win. 16/1 is the best each way value in the race for me. He's a young horse - just six years old - but as a Frenchie, he's likely more mature than the Irish-bred's like Love Rory.

Wrong Turn is next in the betting, but this Tony Martin nag has never seen a cross country course, has raced mainly over 2m5f, and is entered in four other races at the Festival. Surely even the magician Martin can't conjure a debut cross country win from this fellow.

Quiscover Fontaine is another that won't stay and can't win.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Tips

This is a race in which few can realistically win, and I expect it to rest between Big Shu and Balthazar King. If the latter doesn't run due to the ground, Big Shu will take an awful lot of beating. I've backed him accordingly.

Of the bigger priced horses, I think Pasquini Rouge is easily the most interesting runner. Third in the December race when in front a long way from home, he rallied gamely when others came to him and he will be wiser - and quite possibly fitter - in middle March. 16/1 is verging on generous, especially as BetVictor will give you a free bet to the same stake if he fails to get on the ferry.

Sizing Australia and, to a lesser degree, Quantitiveeasing make moderate each way appeal.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Selection: Big Shu 9/2 bet365
Glenfarclas Cross Country Best Each Way: Pasquini Rouge 16/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet)
Glenfarclas Cross Country Minor Interest: Sizing Australia 16/1 Betfred / Quantitiveeasing 12/1 bet365

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Preview and Tips

Will it be A New Story in the Cross Country Chase?

Will it be A New Story in the Cross Country Chase?

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Preview and Tips 2013

Of the 27 races run at the Cheltenham Festival, the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase, or the Cross Country as it's better known, is perhaps the easiest to solve. Now, before you think I've gone mad, let me clarify: that doesn't mean it's easy to solve; just that it's easier than most of the other races.

Bold statement made at the top of the piece, let's look in more depth at what it takes to win this unique challenge, and which nags are best placed to plunder the prize.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Trends 2013

This will be the ninth time the Cross Country Chase has featured at the Festival, and the first five were all won by a horse priced 4/1 or shorter. Since then, things have got a little more random, with 25/1, 13/2 and 11/2 winners... or so it seems.

But closer inspection shows that the big-priced winner, A New Story, had finished 3rd and 4th in the two previous renewals, so knew exactly what was needed. 13/2 winner, Sizing Australia, had also run in the race before, finishing eleventh (but had three other placed finishes over the course outside the Festival).

And last year, I suspect that Balthazar King, though well fancied, profited most from the ugly and unnecessary (in my opinion) fatalities of Scotsirish - who I thought was banker material - and Garde Champetre. He too had had a previous look at the course, when running out in the comedy race run at 2011's December meeting here.

So, all winners had cross country experience, and that looks a stone cold certainty for a likely winner of the race.

The next thing to note is that Balthazar King was the first non-Irish-trained winner of the race and, again, I feel he wouldn't have won had Garde Champetre and Scotsirish completed the course. Let me put that another way: I will be strongly favouring Irish entries over British ones.

Indeed, A New Story - at fourteen years young - failed by just a head to match Balthazar King and retain the Irish stranglehold on the race. And ex-Irish Wedger Pardy was next best, back in third.

So look to the Irish entries for the most likely winner.

Enda Bolger is a specialist trainer in these types of races, and his reward is that he's trained four winners from the eight renewals, plus three runners up. With the loss of Garde Champetre, and the retirement of the likes of Spot Thedifference and Heads Onthe Ground, it seemed Enda's grip was loosening. But he's got some new names to go to war with this time around, most notable perhaps, Arabella Boy, who uncharacteristically unseated on his sole spin around this weird circuit.

Respect Enda Bolger's entries.

The nature of this contest on this course is different from any other race at the Festival. The Cross Country course is inside the Old and New Courses, and winds its way inside and out like a knotted shoelace. As such, whilst stamina is needed - it's most of four miles, after all - there's never an all out gallop because the tight turns and many and varied obstacles don't allow for too much use of the accelerator pedal.

The race does often look wide open turning in for the final quarter mile, before thinning out to just a couple of contenders, and so a turn of foot / something in reserve is crucial.

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A New Story was second last year, as I've written, aged fourteen. He won it aged twelve, as did Native Jack and Spot Thedifference. Ten year olds have also bagged a brace of Cross Country Chases at the Festival.

I do have a slight suspicion that the days of the veterans enjoying a last day in the sun are passing, and that this is - if not quite a young man's game - at least the province of the eight to ten year olds.

There are plenty of familiar names entered which are older than that - the likes of A New Story, Freneys Well, Double Dizzy, Wedger Pardy, Uncle Junior and Sizing Australia - but I'm happy (unless the price is too good to resist) to look towards the new breed and generally favour eight to ten year olds.

Weight is probably less important here than in any of the other handicaps at the Festival. Again, I suspect it's because of the tight track constitution, but the upshot is that the experienced cross country boys prevail over the seemingly attractively-weighted newcomer brigade time and again. Heads Onthe Ground was the only winner to carry less than 10-08, and he had already garnered plenty of cross-country experience, including when third over the course at the previous December meeting.

Ignore weight, and instead favour cross-country experience.

As a specialist sort of race, there are a few key trials for this. The previous year's renewal is a good place to start, with three winners - one repeater - coming back to claim the prize the following year. Also, the PP Hogan Chase at Punchestown in February has had a bearing with three winners of that coming on to win here. And the December meeting cross country chase is perhaps the best form guide of all, with fully six of the eight winners having run there.

A recent hurdle spin has been used by three winners too.

Favour horses which ran in one or more of last year's race, the December Cross Country here, the PP Hogan Memorial Chase, and/or a hurdle race last time.

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Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Preview 2013

OK, so that's the sort of profile we're looking for. Now how do the contenders shape up against it?

Well, the first thing to say is that they currently bet 6/1 the field so there is a nice enough return to aim at, whichever horse wins. Also, there are four places paid on the race as a handicap, so there might be a couple which look close to banker place material.

Sharing favouritism are last year's winner, Balthazar King; Arabella Boy; and, Outlaw Pete. Balthazar has a win and a place in his last two Cross Country starts here at Cheltenham, and won on the park course as well in between. He comes here in great form, we know the track holds no fears, and he is the right sort of age.

But it's difficult to follow up in this contest - only one repeater despite the specialist nature of cross country chases - and he was readily outpointed by Uncle Junior, albeit on ground which might have been too testing for him. In fact, the ground is likely to be on the soft side this time, having been like a road (criminally so, in my view) last term. That give will probably blunt Balthazar's speed and he's not for me, despite an otherwise robust profile for the race.

Arabella Boy is clearly held in high regard by the Bolger team, and is likely to be the pick of his possible quartet. He won the PP Hogan last time, having previously unseated at this course late in the race at the Grand National fence. He'll be spot on for this but must have it on the soft side to show his best.

Outlaw Pete won that last day when Arabella Boy unseated, and was given a very nice stalking ride before quickening away smartly. It's interesting that he's taken his chance in a couple of conventional handicap chases since, thus avoiding a clash with any of his rivals here. Outlaw Pete has form on all ground but prefers some cut. He'll probably get that, and ought to be thereabouts again if his jumping holds together.

Uncle Junior and Bostons Angel come next, and both have experience of this course. Uncle has won the November race here for the past two years, but has finished 78U on his three runs later in the season. He was a well held fourth to Arabella Boy in the PP Hogan and it's difficult to envisage him reversing the form here.

Bostons Angel was even further behind that day, having run up to Arabella Boy and Outlaw Pete on his previous two starts. He looks one paced and whilst likely to be thereabouts is also likely to find at least one too good.

Former winner, Sizing Australia, is a 14/1 shot but I feel fairly confident his best days are behind him now, and he'd need the going to be at least good to make the frame. The course is currently soft, good to soft in places.

A couple of interesting entries figure next, in Big Shu and Chicago Grey. The former was a length behind Arabella Boy at Punchestown last time, but in all his races he's given the impression that he barely gets three miles, let alone the (relatively easy, granted) near four miles here. He's also yet to have sight of this course and, on balance, he can beat me if he's good enough.

Chicago Grey has two wins at Cheltenham, including in the four miler at the Festival, and he also won last time out. But he's never even raced in a cross country chase, and that's a massive negative in a race like this.

The rest probably don't count, though A New Story is worth an honourable mention, with an incredible race record of 34132. Yes, he's fifteen now (!), but he was fourteen last year when beaten only a head, and twelve when he won the race. He goes on any ground and was given a lovely prep in a hurdle race last week. 33/1 (8.25/1 a place 1-2-3-4) is too big despite him being a serious veteran even in the context of a race like this.

Finally, Reste Demohaison is a mildly interesting French raider. Although only eight, he's a thoroughly experienced cross country horse, having already had seventeen races over fence, wall and birch in his native France. It remains to be seen who will ride, and that is a factor here, for sure. He stays the trip and has bundles of seasoning, so might just offer a run for your money.

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Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Tips 2013

Overall then, it's a race which is unlikely to be as competitive as the current 6/1 the field implies, which means there is value for us early birds before most people focus even remotely on the contest.

Arabella Boy retains a slight stamina doubt, but his jumping is usually assured and he'll get a grand ride from Nina Carberry, who I assume will continue her association. And Outlaw Pete must be thereabouts if he can carry the bigger weight this time.

But I am drawn to A New Story. He never seems to have much form coming into this race, and he's as old as Cleeve Hill itself. But. But... he's 34132 in this race, and was just a head shy of winning as a 14yo. That was a taking prep last time over two miles - ahem - and 33/1 offers plenty of throwaway value.

Most Likely Winner: Arabella Boy 6/1 general (5/1 NRNB BOG bet365)
Next Best: Outlaw Pete 6/1 BOG Paddy Power
Great Value Each Way Outsider: A New Story 33/1 Stan James 1/4 1-2-3-4

Good luck!