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Monday 5 December 2016

Balthazar King can shut the door and be crowned King

Balthazar King ridden by Richard Johnson (right) goes on to win the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase on Ladies Day, during the Cheltenham Festival
Balthazar King ridden by Richard Johnson (right) goes on to win the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase on Ladies Day, during the Cheltenham Festival

Balthazar King can break the hearts of sporting romanticists everywhere by winning the Crabbie's Grand National at Aintree.

Seldom has the great race revolved solely around one horse, or, rather, one man. Tony McCoy will attempt to sign off in the most stylish way possible when Shutthefrontdoor vies for a unique piece of history.

Jonjo O'Neill's staying chaser is a worthy favourite, make no mistake, and it is not just pure idealism which has seen him thrust towards the summit of the betting. But unless you have been shrewd enough to take a chunk of the nice prices on offer a few months ago, he is surely too short in the market for a race of this capricious ferocity.

A little further down the betting, seemingly having gone unnoticed by most ante-post punters, is Balthazar King. He might not possess the same unexposed profile of Shutthefrontdoor, nor is he anywhere near as big a crowd-puller as the favourite. That should not in any way be a derogatory claim, though, as Philip Hobbs' 11-year-old ticks virtually all of the proverbial boxes of a National winner.

Many had considered the National last year as something of an afterthought after he won so gamely at the Cheltenham Festival a month earlier. Balthazar King jumped well all the way from a prominent position and stayed on determinedly for second place behind the one-year-older Pineau De Re, beaten just five lengths.

That was a mighty fine effort, but Hobbs might well have been left wondering whether his victory at Cheltenham, when he had to work very hard, could have slightly left its mark.

With Balthazar King not having seen a racecourse since November, a sense of renewed vitality, allied with his proven National qualities, could well see him slam the door shut on McCoy and the dreamers.

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