King rules to land top treble
CHELTENHAM favourite Balthazar King reigned supreme again at Prestbury Park as he won the same race for the third year in a row on the second day of the Showcase meeting on Saturday.
And in what will be music to the ears of his legions of supporters, trainer Philip Hobbs said the nine-year-old would return next month in a bid to win the cross-country chase at the Open.
Balthazar King produced a series of impressive jumps under Richard Johnson on the way to winning by seven lengths from Nigel Twiston-Davies' runner Tour Des Champs – his fifth victory at Cheltenham.
But relentless heavy rain meant racegoers fled indoors to avoid getting soaked and the gelding didn't receive the rousing reception he would have otherwise undoubtedly received.
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The post-race media briefing took place on the roofed winner's podium, where Hobbs said the cross-country race at the Open was the obvious target for him.
Asked how the gelding had managed to achieve the remarkable feat of winning three Cheltenham races in a row, he said: "He's just the most amazing horse.
"Whatever happens next he'll have a winter break when the mud is flying and come back in the spring when his main aim will he another decent cross-country race in France in May."
Kings Palace is also set to run after the Open meeting after he produced an eye-catching performance under Tom Scudamore in the Jools Holland Here on 9th November Novices' Hurdle.
Trained by David Pipe, the 5-1 chance looked an exciting prospect as he made virtually all the running and pulled clear in the home straight to win by 18 lengths from Martin Keighley's Creepy, with rugby stars James Simpson-Daniel, Mike Tindall and Nicky Robinson's Welsh National hero Monbeg Dude staying on well to take third place.
Pipe said: "He's bred to stay but he's not slow – he's shown a bit of pace as well.
"We had a very good bunch of younger horses last season and he was one of them.
"After he fell at Ayr, when he probably would have won otherwise even though I don't think he was on his A-game, we decided to keep him as a novice for this season.
"He could come back here for the Open. We'll see how we go, but he put up a very good performance today.
"He was bought to be a three-mile chaser for next year or the year after, but hopefully he can pick up some more hurdle races on the way."
Paul Nicholls was upbeat about Sametegal's prospects for the rest of the season after he won the Masterson Holdings Hurdle under Daryl Jacob, the first leg of second double in two days for the former champion trainer.
Placed in last year's Triumph Hurdle, the youngster will be targeted at more top races by Nicholls this term.
"He does everything nicely and, typical of mine, he won really well but will improve tons for the run," said Nicholls.
"That's the way I like it, to run like that and improve, rather than have them fully tuned up first time out and they don't improve.
"I loved the way he travelled – he's got loads of speed."
Nicholls will aim Dark Lover at the Open after he appeared to gain a lucky success in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Novices' Chase.
He was left to come home in his own time after Balder Succes fell at the penultimate fence when looking certain to give jockey Robert Thornton his first Cheltenham winner since he came back from injury.
But Nicholls said: "Daryl said he didn't think it wasn't all over and the horse was staying on, and on that ground a lot can change up the hill.
"Dark Lover missed two years with injury and we've looked after him, and I was nervous that he might not be as fit as he could be.
"He does jump beautifully and that will stand him in good stead, and there are plenty of races for him."
Charlie Poste said Thomas Crapper's victory for trainer Robin Dickin in the Go Racing with McPhersonracing.co.uk Handicap Hurdle would probably force a change of plans this season.
A new career over fences had beckoned for the six-year-old but now he is now likely stick to the smaller obstacles following his narrow victory over Kim Bailey's hat-trick-seeking Silver Eagle.
Poste said: "I wanted to drop him in and bide my time and I probably got to the front too early, but the others were dropping away and I didn't want to disappoint him and I think he still had plenty left in the locker.
"We were thinking about going chasing with him but after that I think we'll probably stay hurdling."
AP McCoy had the last word at the meeting as he drove out Carningli (7-1) to success in the Have Your Christmas Parties Here Standard Open National Hunt Flat race.
He saw off the challenges of a host of horses snapping at his heels to win by three and half lengths.
McCoy started today needing 23 more winners to reach 4,000.
■ The attendance on Saturday was 16,166 and on Friday 11,295.