GRAND National runner-up Balthazar King struck for the eighth time at Cheltenham on an opening afternoon of the Open Meeting which belonged to Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson.
There had already been a one-two for the Minehead combination among three in total, but the performance of the cross-country champion stood above the others. Twice a winner at the Festival itself, ten-year-old Balthazar King knows his way so well around the unusual track’s twists and turns, he only really needed Johnson to sit tight during a couple of over-enthusiastic jumps and to weigh in afterwards.
After justifying 4-7 favouritism in the Glenfarclas-sponsored feature by a length and a half from old adversary Uncle Junior, the gelding moved closer to the record number of Cheltenham victories – ten – held by Silver Fame since the early 1950s.
“He’s not far from the record but I suppose he’ll only be running here once a year now,” said Hobbs.
Champagne West (7-2) had earlier beaten 7-4 favourite Colour Squadron in the usually informative Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase, an event won in the infancy of the careers of Dynaste, Imperial Commander and Denman. Champagne West, fourth in the Albert Bartlett last season, held his stablemate by three and a quarter lengths on a long and flat home straight.
Their other winner came with Bold Henry (14-1) in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase.