Is the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Chase a Two-Horse Race Again in 2021?

The Glenfarclas sponsored Cross Country Chase was essentially a match last year between an old Irish favourite and Cheltenham Festival veteran in Tiger Roll, and Easysland – a relative newcomer to the home of British National Hunt horse racing from France.

Victory went to the young pretender as David Cottin’s upwardly mobile horse shot clear of the previous dual race winner for an emphatic success. Easysland had run at Cheltenham before, but his first visit to Prestbury Park wasn’t in the colours of leading Irish owner JP McManus that he carried to victory at the Festival.

Across the Channel, there is a Cross Country racing scene at Compiegne and particularly Pau where Cottin will be preparing his horse for the defence of his crown. Easysland, still a steeplechasing spring chicken aged seven, again heads the betting and most Cross Country Chase tips and predictionsThe theory is he should still be getting better. In practice, main market rival Tiger Roll is 11 years old and, while age is no barrier to success in a race that has had three different past winners delivering at 12, trends suggest moving away from elder horses. Nobody can even take away the historic achievements made by Gordon Elliott’s plucky veteran. Tiger Roll is of course the only multiple winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase, the Grand National at Aintree, since Red Rum in the 1970s.

If not Easysland or the Tiger, then who? Based on their last runs in a handicap over the Cheltenham Cross Country course and distance, neither fired. Tiger Roll was pulled up, while conceding lumps of weight to lesser horses on ratings seemed to rob his French conqueror of fluent jumping and he only came fourth.

Easysland will meet those who got the better of him in the autumn on a level playing field at the Festival, and that is the key. Abundant stamina is key, so 2019 Welsh Grand National winner Potters Corner could also have a hand in proceedings.

He put in a clear round of jumping on his Cross Country debut when finishing in front of Easysland in the handicap race at Cheltenham in November. Welsh trainer Christian Williams wanted a tender introduction and him to complete the course, and he will only benefit from that experience.

There was another Cross Country handicap run at the course in December which Some Neck just got up to win when staying on strongly for amateur jockey Ben Harvey. John McConnell has started taking more of his horses over from Ireland, but further progress is needed from this former member of the Willie Mullins stable to trouble the big two.

Official ratings suggest this is a two-horse race again, and those figures are important because it takes place off level weights. Cheltenham races don’t always go to form, however, even in a discipline like Cross Country, so something coming out of the pack and springing a surprise cannot be ruled out here in 2021.


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