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Cross Country Chase Tips: Rhys Williams analyses a very tricky race

Drama in 2021 market

While there have been some significant moves in the antepost market for the Cross Country chase, so far it hasn’t quite matched the drama last year when a tweet from an account with a few hundred followers caused Easysland to suddenly drift sharply to nearly double figures on the Exchange having been around evens prior to that.

The tweet turned out to be incorrect as the movement of racehorses in France wasn’t impacted by the outbreak of equine herpes and Easysland was sent off at evens.

But those who had laid the inflated prices were probably never too worried during the race as he could never put in a serious challenge to Tiger Roll and was beaten by 18 lengths.

Since that race, Easysland has been moved from David Cottin to Jonjo O’Neill and he’s had two starts over hurdles for his new yard to prepare for this race.

He was given a ridiculous hurdles rating given what he achieved in non-cross country races in France so it wasn’t surprising that he struggled in both but the manner in which he performed was more worrying.

On both occasions he was in trouble with a circuit to go and looked a very hard ride.

Prior form not essential

Showing little in prior runs isn’t the cause for concern that it might be in other races at the Cheltenham Festival.

When Tiger Roll won the race in 2018, he was beaten 42 lengths in his previous run which came over this cross country course. And it was even more marked last season when he was never going in a race over C&D two starts prior and was beaten 65 lengths over hurdles in his prep run.

Going back a bit further, Rivage d’Or bled and was pulled up in an Open on his first start for new connections. Gigginstown took him back and he won at the festival on his next start.

Easysland could be of interest on the day

On the back of those poor performances and support for others, Easysland has drifted out to 8/1. If it came up genuinely soft ground on the cross country course (would likely need to nearly be heavy on the hurdles and chase courses for that to be the case) then he might be of interest on the day despite being badly out of form but I can leave him for now.

Tiger Roll at least showed a little more life at Navan last time having run awfully at Aintree prior to that, making a move going across the top of the course before dropping away in the straight.

He shortened a little after that but has done so far more significantly in the weeks since, going from 5/1 into 7/4. I expect they will look to repeat the tactics of last year and possibly the blinkers will return to replace the cheekpieces but it’s difficult to say there’s any edge at the current price.

Prengarde is versatile but no edge in the price

Prengarde was the initial shortener in the market for this race after the news broke that he had been bought by JP McManus and would be moving to Enda Bolger.

He was previously trained by the Lageneste and Macaire partnership and won five of his six starts in cross country races for them, all five coming at Compiegne.

His only defeat in cross country races was at Fontainebleau which is a tougher test of jumping than Compiegne and the reason for him being sold was that the cross country courses at the likes of Fontainebleau, Pau and Le Lion d’Angers wouldn’t have suited him.

He’s not been overly hard pressed to win any of his five starts at Compiegne, included in a Listed race last time, and I think he will be suited by Cheltenham’s cross country course but there is a doubt over the quality of horses he’s been beating in France.

The likes of Dunquin, Virtus d’Estruval and Barcarolle are far from stars in the cross country sphere while Bucefal just isn’t as good as he was so this will be a much tougher test for Prengarde.

He was tailed off over hurdles at Naas in his prep run and while the result there is of no concern, it is a bit worrying that they had to wait that long to get a prep run into him.

He’s versatile with regards to the ground and there could be plenty more to come from him given he’s only a six-year-old but I can’t see any edge in the price given this is step up in class for him.

Market hasn’t missed Delta Work

Delta Work is the shortest priced and classiest of the newcomers to the cross country sphere. He’s been running respectably in Grade 1s this season but connections have chosen to switch him to this discipline and he reportedly schooled well over the fences when taken there last week.

He clearly has a good chance if he jumps the fences equally well in a race but the market hasn’t missed that with him being second favourite.

I’m not so convinced over fellow cross country newcomer Brahma Bull. While he has the ability to run well in this and stays well, he’s never looked the most nimble of jumpers so whether he will take as well to the cross country fences is a worry. He also bled when last seen in the Thyestes. Again, it’s difficult to say he’s overpriced.

Midnight Maestro, Shady Operator and Tout Est Permis filled the first three places over the banks course at Punchestown last time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter runs better over this course and at least closes the gap on that pair but all three need to improve to be competitive.

The same goes for all the British challengers who ran in the races over C&D in November and December, many of whom are likely to run respectably but need to improve markedly if those at the head of the market turn up at their best.

Champagne Platinum would be an interesting contender if turning up. He’s always had plenty of ability but his jumping of regulation fences has led to him not reaching the heights that his early promise suggested he might be capable of.

If he takes better to cross country fences then he could run well although he was the only one of Enda Bolger’s four entries who wasn’t mentioned in a recent interview so what exactly the plan is for him is currently unknown.

Richard Hobson’s pair, Lord Du Mesnil and Saint Xavier, may be more likely to take to this course than other newcomers given their experience of jumping fences in France but the former has to bounce back after never travelling at Haydock last time and the latter is inconsistent.

Poker Party would have the class at his best to be competitive but it was worrying just how quickly he went from travelling fine to nothing at Leopardstown in December.

As things stand, I can’t see any edge in the market for this race so I’m not advising a bet at this stage but that may change on the day depending on what the ground is, if there are any notable absentees, if the market moves and so forth.

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