Cross Country Chase Tips: Take on Tiger Roll each-way

The Cross Country Chase is the Cheltenham Festival's most unique race.
The Cross Country Chase is the Cheltenham Festival's most unique race.

Thomas Ellis previews next week’s Cross Country Chase, which takes place on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, and is headlined by Tiger Roll’s pursuit of a fifth success at the meeting…

Following Wednesday’s feature race - the Queen Mother Champion Chase - is the unique Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, and the three mile and six furlong journey will see the runners jump 32 obstacles; including ditches, hedges, a Grand National-style fence, and of course the iconic cheese wedges. 

The Cross Country race is like no other at the Festival, and due to the unique nature of the fences, runners have to school over the course in order to be able to go to post. In addition, it is the only race of the Festival where punters can get closer to the action by accessing the centre of the racecourse. 

It generally requires a specialist to win it, and this year’s renewal has even more star power than ever, with former champion Josies Orders and multiple Grade 1-winner Might Bite joining a host of French challengers to take on the undisputed champion, Tiger Roll.

With four Festival wins already to his name, Tiger Roll is Cheltenham royalty, and although he will arrive on the Cotswolds looking to defend his crown in this race for a second time, his trainer Gordon Elliott is adamant that this is merely a stepping-stone for a tilt at completing the Grand National hat-trick. 

Elliott was clear to point out that Tiger Roll would need the run in last month’s Boyne Hurdle more than he did when winning the race last year, but he shaped well, travelling strongly before just running out of steam late on. That start came over an inadequate trip, too, and this will be much more to his liking.

It’s hard to forget his performance in last year’s renewal, when spread-eagling the field to win by 22 lengths under Keith Donoghue, and the pint-sized hero will be a short price to win this race for a third year running as a consequence. With last month’s Navan outing likely to have brought him on plenty, he will take a world of beating in this discipline.

However, he will face an intriguing field this time around, which is headed by a talented quintet of French raiders - the most notable being Easysland for trainer David Cottin. The six-year-old is unbeaten in each of his last six outings, and landed a gamble when winning the cross country race here back in December, when his jockey Johnathan Plouganou’s one-handed jumping style very much caught the eye. His exploits persuaded J.P. McManus to acquire him at the beginning of last month, and he will arrive here fresh after winning a listed contest in this discipline at Pau last time out. 

Cottin is also due to represented by Disco D’Authie, while compatriot Emmanuel Clayeux could send over Arlequin D’Allier, Diesel D’Allier and Urgent De Gregaine. The last-named has placed in each of the last two renewals of this and deserves respect once again, though he was a four and a half-length runner-up to Diesel D’Allier at the November Meeting here, and it will be interesting to see who proves to the the stable’s first string. 

Unlike Enda Bolger, who has won this race five times, Nicky Henderson is not synonymous with saddling horses for this, meaning that Might Bite is an eye-catching entry. Admittedly, he’s rather struggled for form since his effort to finish a gallant second to Native River in the 2018 Gold Cup, but he showed something to work on when third in the Denman Chase at Newbury last time - despite losing both of his front shoes - and he can’t be discounted completely if being reignited by these fences. 

Others worthy of note are Irish raiders Neverushacon and Yanworth. Like Might Bite, the latter has been switched to this sphere this season, and he made a winning start when beating Neverushacon at Punchestown back in November. That rival had to concede 5 lb that day, however, and since reversed that form at the same course last time out - and he could be an interesting each-way prospect at a double-figure price. Meanwhile, Willie Mullins’ only entry is Pleasant Company. Denied victory in the 2018 Grand National by Tiger Roll, Pleasant Company is a true stayer. His form since that 2018 effort has been incredibly erratic, but the vast obstacles of the Cross Country course could reignite the 12-year-old’s interest.

Two more to consider are Chic Name and Sumkindofking. Richard Hobson only has a small group of horses, but has targeted the former at this since the beginning of the season, hitting the frame over these fences in November and December. He’s since finished a fine second in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh last time out and could offer some each-way value at the 50/1 mark, though this will be tougher. Meanwhile, Sumkindofking was third behind Chic Name at Musselburgh last time, and he too could go well here, though he’d likely need the ground to come up soft if he’s to feature on his first try over these fences. 

In summary, Tiger Roll will take all of the beating in pursuit of his hat-trick, but bearing in mind that he is an odds-on favourite at the time of writing, it looks worth siding with a bigger-priced rival each-way, namely Neverushacon. He’s shown plenty to work on in his two runs in this sphere so far this season, beating a pretty strong field at Punchestown last month, and it would be no surprise should he prove good enough to sneak into the frame.

Selection

Cross Country Chase, Cheltenham Festival, Wednesday 11th March 2020 – back Neverushacon each-way at 16/1 (NRNB)

Cross Country Chase
Neverushacon silk

Neverushacon

lost

Irish raider who's shown plenty of ability in three starts in this sphere so far, getting off the mark at the third attempt at Punchestown in February. The form of that looks pretty strong, defeating a Grade 2-winning chaser in Yanworth amongst others, and although this will be tougher, he could offer plenty of each-way value at around the 16/1 mark.

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