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Can Balko Des Flos emulate cross-country stalwart Balthazar King?

Balko Des Flos (left) chases Minella Times home in the Grand National
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Friday: 2.55 Cheltenham
Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase | 3m6f | 5yo+ |  ITV4/RTV

This race is usually dominated by cross-country regulars but this season it’s a little different because last season’s Grand National runner-up Balko Des Flos is at the head of the market.

Balko Des Flos has run only once in a cross-country race at this track and he unseated rider Rachael Blackmore at the 15th.

He showed at Aintree that jumping there isn’t an issue, and Balthazar King was runner-up at Aintree in 2014 before winning this event the following November. However, he had won a cross-country before and Balko Des Flos has yet to tick that box.

This race was also run off level weights when Balthazar King won and it's a different test as a handicap. Balko Des Flos has to concede weight all round and, since the race was changed in 2016, no horse has carried more than 11st 2lb to victory and four winners had less than 11st.

Talkischeap is another leading contender who lacks experience of the course. This will be his debut over Cheltenham’s cross-country, but he does have a Grand National link. He was pulled up on the second circuit behind Balko Des Flos at Aintree when trained by Alan King.

There was talk of retirement for Talkischeap after he was pulled up at Market Rasen in July, but that appears to have been shelved and he makes his debut for Martin Keighley, who had success with Any Currency over these fences. Runners making their debut for his yard after switching from another are just 3-30 since the start of 2016, though.

Diesel D'Allier and Charlie Deutsch wing the water jump on the way to winning this race at Cheltenham in 2019

There are a few cross-country regulars in the line-up and among them is the 2019 winner of this race, Diesel D’Allier, who makes his first start for Richard Bandey having formerly been trained by Emmanuel Clayeux in France. Bandey also has just a moderate strike-rate when runners are switched to his yard from another, though, operating at only 1-21 (five per cent).

The final word goes to the most famous Virtual Grand National winner of all, Potters Corner. A peak audience of 4.8 million watched his computer-generated alter ego win on ITV during the 2020 pandemic and the real Potters Corner is 11lb lower than when third in this last year.
Race analysis by Graeme Rodway

Irish National hero Dylan ready for new challenge

Freewheelin Dylan produced one of the stories of last season – or any other for that matter – when making virtually every yard to produce a 150-1 shock in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse for trainer Dermot McLoughlin and jockey Ricky Doyle.

Clearly a horse that relishes an extreme test of stamina, he then ran well to be fourth under a big weight over 3m7f at the Punchestown Festival, and now switches discipline in search of more long distance options.

Freewheelin Dylan forges clear in the Boylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse

"He's schooled well over the fences and seems to enjoy it," said McLoughlin. "He's a super jumper and I think it will suit him, although everyone tells me you probably need to have one run over these fences before really getting into the swing of things. I'm happy with him and hopefully the ground should be fine."

What they say

Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Balko Des Flos and Plan Of Attack
Balko Des Flos should come on plenty for his run over hurdles at Galway and seems in great form at home. I know we only got to halfway in the Cross Country in March but Rachael thought he was loving it at the time so we'll see how he gets on. It's obviously a tough task in terms of ratings but we'll see how things go. Plan Of Attack is in great form and we're looking forward to seeing how he gets on here.

Martin Keighley, trainer of Talkischeap and Back On The Lash
Talkischeap has been to Cheltenham twice to school over the cross-country course and he seems to really enjoy it. We know he’ll stay after winning over three miles five at Sandown and if he takes to it he could run a really big race. The question mark with Back On The Lash would be the trip but I think he’ll stay. His schooling round there has been absolutely fantastic.

Christian Williams, trainer of Potters Corner
He seems in good form at home and he had a good pipe-opener at Aintree the other day. The handicapper has given him a little bit of a chance and he enjoyed the course last time, while they usually build on the experience around a track like that. 

Former Welsh national winner Potters Corner has slipped down the weights

Gordon Elliott, trainer of Alpha Des Obeaux
He had been struggling for form a little bit last season before running in the cross-country at the Cheltenham Festival last season. It seemed to revive him when running very well in fourth, and he goes there in good order again. If he takes to it as well as he did then, you'd be hopeful he'll run well.

Richard Bandey, trainer of Diesel D'Allier
Harry Bannister has ridden him at home a little bit and we schooled him at Cheltenham last Wednesday. Our Gold Cup might be December and not November but we'll see, we're there to have a go. His experience and his jumping should stand him in good stead.

Sheila Lewis, trainer of Volcano
Since the minute he arrived we've had this race in mind because he's a very agile and well-balanced horse who can turn on a sixpence. We think it will really suit him. Whether he'll need a run round first I don't know but we've got Charlie Deutsch on to add that bit of expertise. 

Jane Williams, trainer of Fox Pro
He's bred by the Trinquet family and those are proper horses for cross-country. This is a prep race before he heads to France for their good cross-country races next year and I'm trying to build a team of horses back up for that. 

Philip Rothwell, trainer of Singing Banjo
He'll love the good ground and is in great form. It's a pity that Balko Des Flos was declared because we'd be a stone better at the weights if he wasn't, but what can you do? It's fantastic for Barry [Walsh] to get to ride a horse owned by his parents in a race like this.
Reporting by Scott Burton

Read more of Friday's previews:

1.45 Cheltenham: 'He'll be back in the mix again' - Paul Nicholls on last season's winner

2.20 Cheltenham: 'I'm really looking forward to it' - Skelton excited as he unleashes My Drogo

3.30 Cheltenham: How good is Off Your Rocco? Hyde test next for exciting novice hurdler

Upping The Ante star Gavin Lynch joins the Racing Post roster for a weekly Saturday column throughout the jumps season. He'll offer a guide to the weekend action, highlight the horses and races to watch and share his punting wisdom. Read it every Saturday in the Racing Post or online from 4pm every Friday, exclusively for Members' Club subscribers. Sign up to Members' Club here for more top jumps season insight.

Balko Des Flos has to concede weight all round and, since the race was changed in 2016, no horse has carried more than 11st 2lb to victory
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