Oddschecker's racing expert takes an early look at two contenders for Cheltenham's Cross Country Chase in March.
Cross Country Chase - 14th March 2018
This unique race clearly divides the hardcore punter and casual racegoers alike, some finding it a welcome opportunity to catch a refreshment while trying to keep up with the fence count on the top of the nearest TV screen, while others see it as having a fitting place at the home of National Hunt racing as being the race closest to the purity of how the game begin racing from steeple to steeple with all and sundry in the way. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, it’s a race – other than Rivage D’Or – has gone the way of a horse that has already had vital experience of racing over the cross country course itself or tasted a similar a vibe over the Punchestown banks and that criteria makes life easy when analysing the likely players in the ante-post lists. Clearly, last year’s winner, Cause Of Causes, will be high on most punter’s lists and so will the previous hero Josies Orders, whereas the likes of The Last Samuri, Foxrock and Tiger Roll make little appeal on account of their lack of knowledge when it comes to these events.
Two others that do have the requisite profiles for the examination having proven themselves around the twists and turns of Prestbury Park are AUVERGNAT (best price 14-1) and URGENT DE GREGAINE (best price 25-1). The former was arguably unlucky not to triumph on his first visit to the home of National Hunt racing when coming down at the 26th obstacle whilst seemingly travelling supremely easily, but he quickly made up for that untimely exit with compensation gained courtesy of a hard-fought success at Punchestown two months later. Although he could only manage fourth behind Cause Of Causes on his return to Cheltenham, Enda Bolger’s inmate ran a good deal better than the bear result suggests as he made a few notable errors on the way round. Likely to have his whole campaign geared around this season’s renewal, the seven-year-old is probably just reaching the peak of his powers at this stage of his career and following a nice pipe-opener over hurdles at Galway recently, the son of Della Francesca should go close to putting an early marker down with a positive display in the first of the cross country events at the November Meeting this coming weekend (formerly the Paddy Power meeting).
Whether the latter would have beaten Auvergnat had he stood on his feet back in January is open to debate, but either way, you’d have to be impressed by the way the French horse adapted to the nuisances of the unique course at the first time of asking. Proving too strong late on for the hot favourite Cantlow, he put Enda Bolger’s charge in his place fair and square and although we never saw him again all season, he proved his current wellbeing with a tremendous effort in the Pardubicka a month ago. Set to run in the Glenfarcas Chase this coming Friday providing the ground is suitable, he, too, will be of huge interest in that race and providing he comes through that test with flying colours, connections will also have one eye on the Festival back in March, hoping and praying they get some rain in the build-up.