The Francois Factor
These days National Hunt racing is awash with French bred horses. They were never on the radar until 1987 when trainer Francois Doumen brought an unconsidered horse called Nupsala to contest the King George.
When Nupsala pulverised the legendary Desert Orchid and Gold Cup winner Forgive And Forget people took notice. Doumen won the King George four more times with his homebred horses. He also won the Triumph Hurdle and Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
French horses can run and jump. Kauto Star is a fine example – he may be the best national hunt horse we have seen in the past 50 years.
Ajas Could Win as Easy as Easysland
But French trainers abandoned British racing in the early decades of the 21st century. It was not until 2019 they returned. They made an impression too. Their one runner at the Cheltenham Festival, Easysland trounced 13 rivals in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase – including Tiger Roll – by 17 lengths.
Easysland was trained by David Cottin, who returned with the horse last season when he finished second. Beforehand the former jockey was planning to run a second horse, AJAS, in the Cross Country Chase. However, due to Covid not allowing Ajas’ owners to travel, he never made the trip to Prestbury Park.
Instead, the horse stayed in France where he won a Grade 3 Chase in March, a Grade 2 in April and then started 4/1 for the Grade 1 Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris. It is better known as the French Gold Cup.
That is top-notch form. On the strength of it, this six-time winning seven-year-old could contest many races at the Cheltenham Festival.
Should his target remain the level-weights Cross Country Chase, in 2022 he will surely take all the beating. Some good horses have won this race in the past but nothing capable of contesting a Gold Cup on either side of the English Channel.
Opponents Could Roll Over
Tiger Roll, a three-time Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase winner could make his Cheltenham swansong in the race. It would be good to see him win it. But he will turn 12 in January and he’s unlikely to have the legs to cope with the much younger Ajas.
Balko Des Flos is fairly short in the Cross County betting odds. He looked good when finishing second in last year’s Grand National, but he was in rear when falling in last year’s Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
Balko Des Flos is an infrequent winner – landing just three of his 26 chase starts – he’s also unlikely to handle the classy Ajas who has won seven of his last 11 starts and finished placed in two others.