With a decent record when fresh and at his best on decent ground over this sort of trip Balthazar King (3:10) looks the one to beat in Hereford’s extended 3m1f Lindley Catering Novices’ Chase.
The useful handicap hurdler won his first two starts over fences in the autumn, before running a couple of decent races in defeat at Cheltenham. His last start also came at Cheltenham, when he ran a better race than the bare for would suggest.
The son of King’s Theatre eventually came home fifth to Time For Rupert, with festival winner Chicago Grey (who also beat him in October) in second and Racing Post Chase winner Quinz in third.
Rated 140 over fences already, he also managed to bustle up Grade 1 winning hurdler Wayward Prince in November and that rival went on to finish third in the RSA Chase earlier in the month.
The opening novice hurdle looks a competitive little affair and, at the prices, it may be worth siding with Swift Lord (2:10) who receives 6lbs from the four previous winners.
Raya Star could easily be the best horse in this race, but he has now fallen twice from three starts over timber so is unlikely to be high on confidence. Likely favourite is recent Huntingdon winner Dubai Crest, but the selection finished in front of him at Doncaster on his last start and is now 6lb better off.
A good-to-firm bumper winner in Ireland, he shaped really well on his only other previous start over timber at Ludlow last February when he finished third to the smart Black Jack Blues.
The useful Ackertac (now rated 133) was runner-up that day and the smart chaser Hidden Keel was some 14 lengths adrift in fourth. Though he will probably want further in time, a similar performance on his favoured ground could be good enough here.
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Last year’s selections included:
Hurricane Fly: 3/1 winner of the G1 Rabobank Champion Hurdle
Copper Bleu: 12/1 winner of the Jewson at Cheltenham
Great Endeavour: 18/1 winner of the Festival Plate
Tranguil Sea: 11/2 winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup
Sizing Europe: 6/1 winner of the Arkle
Weapon’s Amnesty: 10/1 winner of the RSA Chase