If you’re looking for a trusted big-name stayer to win the greatest steeple-chase of all, Balthazar King is the Grand National pick of choice.
Second in the 2014 renewal, Philip Hobbs’ Cheltenham Festival winner has been in exemplary form since reappearing at Craon across the channel in September.
The 10-year-old ran out a comfortable three-length winner in France before impressing again over the hefty 3m7f trip at Cheltenham to take the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase ahead of regular rivals Uncle Junior and Sire Collonges.
Not always the cleanest clearer of obstacles, Balthazar King’s staying power even when packing the pounds is abundant.
That last win in the Cotswolds took Hobbs’ inmate to a hugely impressive six wins from his last eight starts over fences and, at 20/1 for Aintree glory, not even a potentially off-putting weight should detract from backing such a class act.
Representing the most heralded trainer/jockey combination of the season so far with Richard Johnson on board, this throws extra credibility behind Balthazar King’s claims.
Meanwhile, the Grand National prospects of another classy stayer don’t feel half as bright heading into the festive programme.
Fifth for Paul Nicholls in 2014, Rocky Creek is a shaky 25/1 shot after pulling up in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
The Ditcheat governor may point to the softness of the Newbury surface when the eight-year-old tailed off, but previous successes in such conditions suggest this could be only a partial excuse.
An 11-length second behind Road To Riches at Down Royal in November, the improvement required may be too great for Rocky Creek, while news of some kind of exploratory procedure coming out of the Somerset stable would not be a shock.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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