sport

Balthazar is Cross-Country king

Balthazar King repeated his 2012 victory in the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

The 4/1 favourite defied top weight with a narrow victory over Any Currency, prevailing by a short head after a mighty tussle in the hands of Richard Johnson.

Big Shu, the winner 12 months ago, was two lengths away in third with Duke Of Lucca fourth.

Johnson put the win down his mount's sheer will to win, saying: "He's just amazing. I thought it would be difficult off top weight, but he never stops trying.

"He just wants to win. He's a real front-runner but he saved a little bit for the end."

Hobbs admitted to thinking Any Currency had possibly stolen victory with his late lunge, saying: "Balthazar King keeps coming year after year after year.

"He's essentially just very genuine. He stays very well and he's very clever.

"He kept on going and stayed on well, but I wasn't sure whether he'd won at the line."

Sire Collonges had made the running with Any Currency and Duke Of Lucca, a stablemate of the winner, also handy from the outset.

There was little change in the order until the final circuit where Any Currency went on under Ian Popham but his move was covered by Johnson on Balthazar King.

Big Shu, the 3/1 favourite, was brought into the race quietly by Paul Carberry but he could not quite get to the first two, who fought out a battle royal up the hill after three miles seven furlongs and 32 fences.

Martin Keighley, trainer of runner-up Any Currency, said: "I'm gutted. It was a great run and Ian gave him a fantastic ride.

"He really deserved to win something like that.

"He's always been a bit of a monkey, but the course suits him and he's a relentless galloper."