Ryanair Chase winner Balko Des Flos returns on Saturday, as Down Royal hosts the first Grade 1 of this season, the JNwine.com Champion Chase.
The JNwine.com Champion Chase is a 3m Grade 1 that has established itself as a leading early season event for top staying chasers. Some of racing’s biggest names have opened their season by winning this €140,000 prize, including Florida Pearl (1999), Looks Like Trouble (2000), Beef Or Salmon (2004 & 2006), Kauto Star (2008 & 2010), and Don Cossack (2015).
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud have won six of the last seven JNwine.com Champion Chases. They have two main chances this year, with Cheltenham Festival winner Balko Des Flos and last year's second Road To Respect.
Balko Des Flos (9/4 Paddy Power) enjoyed a fantastic campaign last season. The son of Balko bolted up in the Galway Plate then improved behind Road To Respect, who won the Grade 1 Christmas Chase.
Balko Des Flos was sent off a massive 66/1 at Leopardstown, before following that effort up with a career-best performance to beat Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase. His Aintree effort can be forgiven as it looked one run too many for the season. The odds of 9/4 (Paddy Power) could be on the generous side.
Road To Respect (2/1 Black Type) is related to 2014 winner Road To Riches and goes well fresh, having won on his return at Punchestown last season. The son of Gamut was freshened up for the Gold Cup after his Christmas win, but soft conditions scuppered his chances and finished an honourable fourth to Native River.
Perhaps that run left a mark as he didn’t look at his best when third to Bellshill in the Punchestown Gold Cup in April. He was supplemented for Down Royal on Tuesday at a cost of €14,000 and the 2/1 on offer with Black Type looks very fair for a classy individual.
Sub Lieutenant and Outlander both look likely runners for Gigginstown too, with the pair having met at Punchestown last month, where the former got the better of the latter by nine lengths.
Sub Lieutenant has bounced back to form after a spell in the doldrums last season and he looks a suitable second string for Balko Des Flos trainer Henry de Bromhead. One thing he did confirm last time was his staying ability, something in the past that has eluded him over 3m, and he boasts solid credentials at 5/1 with Coral.
Outlander (10/1 Ladbrokes) is consistent from this time of year until the spring and he likely needed his first run 17 days ago. The 10-year-old has been a great servant to his owners and could reward each-way supporters at 10/1 with Ladbrokes - softer ground sure to suit.
JLT Novices' Chase winner Shattered Love would be of considerable interest were she to line up but, like her stablemate The Storyteller, she looks more likely to tackle the Grade 2 Skymas Chase later on the card.
Opposition to Gigginstown looks pretty sparse, but the leading trainer in this contest, Paul Nicholls, could fire Clan Des Obeaux and Black Corton at the powerhouse.
Black Corton has always promised to be a top-class performer and defied a 117-day break to finish third to Might Bite in the Betway Bowl at Aintree last sprin, after an interrupted preparation due to injury. He, and his jockey Bryony Frost, improved at a rapid rate last season, winning the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton.
The best may yet to come with this son of Kapgarde, but ground conditions may put connections off making the trip from England. He also has the option of Saturday's Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, as does. Clan Des Obeaux.
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