Cheltenham: Enda Bolger to reclaim Cross Country from Big Shu

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It’s been four years since Enda Bolger last tasted success in the Cross Country Handicap, but despite the presence of the three previous winners in this year’s race, the Irish trainer looks well placed for success with Love Rory.

Bolger certainly has plenty of experience of success in this event, overseeing victories in four out of the five editions of this race running from 2005 to 2009 at Cheltenham.

And while he may not have celebrated victory since then, the Irish have always proven prolific in this fifth race of Ladies’ Day, with trainers from the Emerald Isles winning eight out of the nine runnings, which bodes well for the chances of the six-year-old.

Eight of the last nine Cross Country Handicap winners have previously tasted success over three miles or more and Love Rory did exactly that last time out at Punchestown, taking first from a field of 16 that included the favourite for this Wednesday’s contest Big Shu.

That day Love Rory finished 2 ¼ lengths clear of the Peter Maher-trained horse who, despite being favourite for victory with Ladbrokes, faces an uphill struggle to claim back-to-back wins.

Four of the last nine winners have gone into the Cross Country Handicap Chase off the back of a win, a statistic that places more significance over that Punchestown victory, while none of the last four winners have successfully defended their crown.

In fact, you would have to go back to Bolger’s last victory, when Nina Carberry rode Garde Champetre to the win in 2009 to find the one and only time there has been a successful defence.

The Irish trainer will be aware that Love Rory’s inexperience could count against him though, with jockey A P Heskin riding on the youngest horse for this event and going up against the more experience duo of Big Shu and Balthazar King.

Each of the last five winners have been eight years old or more, and former winner Balthazar King could make that number count here, with the Philip Hobbs horse out to reclaim the crown he relinquished in 2012.

But given Bolger’s track record in this event and the fine form of Love Rory heading into this race, don’t discount an upset just yet.

In 2010, 25/1 shot A New Story rode to victory in the Cross Country Handicap Chase, while 2011 brought another relative surprise with 13/1 Sizing Australia, who returns to the race this year, claiming victory.

Even Big Shu started last year’s edition at 14/1 – don’t be surprised to see Love Rory follow suit.

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Jack Beresford

Jack Beresford is a content writer with over five years of experience in writing about sport and betting, including a two-year spell with Axonn Media. Contributes articles to HereIsTheCity and Lad Bible, while previous credits include Bwin, FTB Pro, Bleacher Report and the QBE rugby. Avid follower of tennis, rugby union, motorsport and football, Jack also writes about poker for Cardspiel.com alongside Guardian journalist Dominic Wells.