Philip Hobbs: Balthazar King as ‘good as ever’ as Cheltenham nears

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Every winner at next week’s Cheltenham Festival will be welcomed into the Winner’s Enclosure to rapturous applause, but few will get quite the reception that Balthazar King will receive should he triumph.

Things looked ominous for Philip Hobbs’ charge when taking a horror fall at the Canal Turn in last year’s Grand National, but thanks to the veterinary care received and connections’ patience, the 12-year-old is ready to return to the track.

The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase is the target for the popular gelding with Ladbrokes installing him as 6/1 third-favourite.

His handler spoke exclusively to Ladbrokes News and expressed delight at how the veteran was coming along.

“He did all his basic work at the owner’s place in Hampshire from September onwards and things have certainly been [straightforward] since we had him back here in December,” Hobbs told us.

“He’s been cantering with the others as he would do no problem at all.”

The Somerset-based trainer went as far to say that the two-time winner of the Festival contest is no different at home to how he has always been, but did offer a word of warning.

“Everything we’ve seen here has been the same as it always has.

“He’s got a bit of an indentation at the back of his rib-cage and probably has a small reduction in his lung capacity as a result.

“His gallops are as good as ever but of course until he goes three miles and three quarters we don’t know how it will affect him over that sort of distance.”

For the first year since being added to the Festival schedule the race will not be a handicap, meaning that Balthazar King will not have give the majority of the field weight as he would have done in previous years.

And with his Hobbs’ horse the second-highest rated of the current entrants he thinks that the change is “very much” in his favour.

Whether he can deliver for a third time during the big week at Prestbury Park is open to question but the racing public will be relishing seeing ‘The King’ back on the track once again.

All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.