Cheltenham Festival: Balthazar’s king of the cross-country circuit

He had done it before and now he has done it again. Balthazar King won the idiosyncratic cross-country chase in 2012 and, at 4-1, repeated the feat in a titanic finish when hard pressed all the way by Any Currency.

Prominently ridden by Richard Johnson for the bulk of the marathon trip over a variety of hedges, banks, rails and fences, Balthazar King took it up with five to jump at which point Any Currency, the long-time leader, looked spent.

As the principals turned back onto the racecourse for the final time another danger loomed in the form of Big Shu, the 2013 winner who had been quietly cajoled further back in the field by Paul Carberry to that point.

Johnson held the lead at the last as Carberry’s mount – the 3-1 favourite – found little more but Ian Popham’s energetic urgings from five out on Any Currency were bearing fruit and somehow keeping the 10-1 shot in with a chance of a very hard-earned victory.

The harder Popham drove the more Any Currency seemed to find, leaving Johnson to get deadly serious on a topweight giving 16lb to his rival as the pair made headlong progress to the winning line.

Only in the final stride of the 31 furlongs raced did Popham and his Martin Keighley-trained mount concede, failing by an agonising short head.

“He’s just amazing,” said Johnson of the winner, who is trained by Philip Hobbs for The Brushmakers.

“I thought today it would be very difficult for him with top weight. He never stops trying. He just wants to win. He’s a real frontrunner so I tried to save a little bit but he just wants to win.”

Source: Racing Post, 12 March 2014

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