Daily columnist Architect Tips has a look ahead to the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham Festival, selecting one tips for this Grade 1 Hurdle.
Cross Country Chase - Winner
Cross Country Chase 2022 Tips: Ante-Post Preview
With less than seven weeks to go until the start of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, which I cannot wait for, the ante-post betting is indeed starting to get into shape. In this week’s edition of the Cheltenham ante-post previews, I have looked ahead to the Cross Country Chase which takes place on the second day of the four-day programme. It is run over an extreme distance of three-miles and six-furlongs and regularly attracts the best cross-country specialists that Britain, Ireland and France have to offer, who are required to negotiate a series of 32 unique obstacles in the hope of lifting the prize whilst adding their name to the list of famous previous winners.
Tiger Roll - undoubtedly the most famous horse in training, needs no introduction, who’s chasing an unrivalled six Cheltenham Festival victory and a fourth win this is event, who won it back-to-back in 2018 and 2019 before rolling back the years to reclaim his title twelve months ago from the winner of two years ago, Easysland. This is the culmination plan for the legendary two-time Grand National, who is currently 6/1 second-favourite in a bid to rewrite the history books and it would come as no surprise to see him do just that at his beloved venue. We all hope and pray he can deliver the goods one last time but, most importantly, whether he wins or not, is to see the twelve-year-old come home safe and sound, who will receive a standing ovation at Prestbury Park in March, as he’s done more than enough in the sport and has firmly cemented himself amongst racing’s greats. Put it this way, if he was human, he would have no doubt been welcomed with a knighthood for his magnificent accomplishments during his career.
Owner JP McManus has an exceptional record in this race, winning it seven times, and he could hold the aces with three leading chances, including his newest purchase and the current favourite - Prengarde, who’s been quoted as low as 4/1. He has won his last five races over fences, all at Compiegne, culminating in a Listed contest on his latest start in November but this six-year-old, who has joined the Enda Bolger team, has yet to have any confirmed plans at the moment so his participation here is far from certain. He has the potential to be a high-class cross-country specialist in time but this is asking a lot for a horse so soon in his career to win this, so I am happy to pass him over for now.
Shady Operator, currently a 12/1 chance and the winner from two years ago Easysland, who’s best price 8/1 third-favourite, are sure to be popular amongst most punters shortlist. The former made an excellent start to the cross-country sphere, winning the Risk Of Thunder by seven-lengths, where he looked a natural over fences before quickening up in good style and could therefore be a serious force for Enda Bolger, who will be looking to win this event for the sixth time, the first since Josies Orders who took top honours six years ago. The latter, who was formerly trained by David Cottin, has subsequently joined Jonjo O’Neill’s stable and connections are confident the eight-year-old will be able to regain his crown at Cheltenham in March. He beat Tiger Roll by 17 lengths at the 2020 Festival but has tasted defeat twice since, including when the latter comprehensively reversed the form last year in their rematch.
Admittedly, this star performer has had an interrupted preparation, who’s been hit with multiple setbacks since winning here, but the reports are that he’s fresh and well which is a positive sign. I know connections were keen to get a run into him before a return to the Cheltenham Festival, which would be greatly ideal, but with less than two months to go, I am concerned this might be too late as it would take one hell of a performance on return to scale the heights he did in this two years ago, especially when taking into account that he was a well-beaten fourth behind Kingswell Theatre on seasonal debut in the late part of 2020. It will be great to see how he can fare back at the scene of his biggest win to date, especially to see if he’s improved for the switch to O’Neill’s base at Jackdaws Castle but, at the prices, I think he’s a risky proposition.
Trainer Gordon Elliott, who’s won this race four times, doesn’t just have the hat-trick hero Tiger Roll in the ante-post market, though, but has a host of outsiders to consider and, while the market much prefers the defending champion, it’s stablemate MORTAL (best price 20-1) who is the one you don’t want to overlook at double-figure odds. The ten-year-old was very smart in his youth and took to this course at the first time of asking like a duck to water over course-and-distance at Cheltenham’s November meeting. An honourable fifth in the 2019 RSA at the Festival, one of the hottest renewals in recent times, he was highly-tried on stable debut when midfield in the Ladbrokes Troytown Handicap Chase and left the impression that connections were using that as a prep-run for other assignments and that proved to be the case when he was supplemented for his cross-country debut at Cheltenham two months ago.
As big as 50/1 in the morning, he was well-supported into as short as 20/1 by the off and ran an absolute belter to finish a close-up fourth. Waited with towards the rear, he was ridden with plenty of confidence under Jody McGarvey and the pair began to make swift progress through the field on the last circuit, passing river after rival. His jumping was very assured throughout and he just about got himself into a winning position despite being forced wide on the home-bend but almost ended up hitting the deck as he slipped quite badly which set him on the back-foot. That said, he somehow got himself back into contention and looked like winning until finding no extra in the closing stages, eventually finishing a respectable fourth.
Mortal’s performance can be upgraded quite significantly as he was the only one of the first nine home that day with no cross-country experience to his name so he was bound to improve for that bold display both mentally and physically, which is often the case with debutants in this sphere. His trainer knows what is required to win this affair and, while I respect that is a much tougher assignment on paper, he has untapped potential to be a serious force in this division with a recollection of his first crack at the whip on this circuit last time and, with that experience to draw upon in the main event, I’d make him shorter than his current odds and he could offer a good bit of each-way value as a result.