Following rainfall of biblical proportions the Welsh Grand National, scheduled for last Wednesday, the 27th, the annual “slog in the mud” was cancelled, but thanks to a flexible executive, and cooperation from The British Horse Racing Authority, the race has been saved and is due to be run on Saturday. Reports from the track at the time of writing are positive, so unless there is an unexpected deterioration in the weather, the contest should be underway sometime after ten past two on Saturday. First run at a track near Cardiff way back in eighteen ninety five, Chepstow has been the home of the gruelling marathon since nineteen forty nine, when the winner was ridden by the “Royal Jockey”/ Thriller Scribbler, Dick Francis, of Devon Loch fame. Two legends of the Winter Game, Martin Pipe and Jenny Pitman, had great success in the nineteen eighties and nineties with eight victories between them, but in recent renewals, it has been the Lee family, (dad Richard, and daughter, Kerry) who have been the yard to follow. They have won three of the last six renewals, and their, Bell House Operation, with two solid looking candidates in Bishops Road and Alfie Spinner, must entertain serious hopes of adding to their haul this year.
The ten year old, Bishops Road, did manage to win a couple of “Bumpers”, a Maiden Hurdle and a Chase when trained in Ireland by Henry De Bromhead, but transferred to Kerry Lee in December 2015 and stepped up in trip, he met with immediate success, winning his first two races, including a Grade3 Haydock Handicap over three miles four and a half furlongs on heavy ground, by an aggregate of twenty six lengths. He drew a blank in his next six races, but put up a highly satisfactory effort on his reappearance following an eight month break, when running Saturday’s leading fancy, Beware The Bear, to two and a half lengths over an inadequate two miles seven and a half furlongs at the beginning of December. He meets the winner on four pounds better terms and off a mark only two pounds higher than for that impressive Haydock victory this strong stayer who will love the conditions is well worth considering.
The evergreen Alfie Spinner, thirteen last Monday, was second to Wild West Wind in the Trial race for this (Chepstow 2m 7 1/2f heavy Dec9). A horse in it’s teens has never won the Welsh National but after competing in thirty chases the son of Afflora looks as good as ever, and as a real mud lark, racing off a nice weight of ten stone seven, it wouldn’t come as the biggest surprise if he managed to become the first.
Nicky Henderson has never won this contest but looks to hold a strong hand with current market leader, Beware The Bear. As we saw above, he won the Trial for this by two and a half lengths from Bishops Road, and as he also was coming back from a break, further progress can be anticipated. Having won three of his five starts over fences he is clearly progressive, and as a son of Shantou, out of the Be My Native mare, Native Bid, staying is going to be the name of his game, so he has plenty to recommend him on Saturday. My only slight reservation would be the very likely heavy ground. The only time he has raced on a heavy surface he duly won, but it was only a three runner Bangor Maiden Hurdle and the runner up is only rated on 110.
The Philip Hobbs trained eight year old, Rock The Kasbah just loves Chepstow, and he can boast a record of three wins and a second from his four course appearances, including last time out,(2m7 1/2f Ch good/soft) in October when beating petrou by two lengths off a mark of 142. He has paid the price for that success and races off a mark of 149 on Saturday giving him 11-10 to shoulder at the weekend. However he is still on a mark a pound lower than his hurdles rating and as he is by that strong influence for stamina, Shirocco, out of The In The Wings mare, Impudent, who won over two miles plus on soft to heavy ground when trained by Willie Mullins, should find Saturday’s trip right up his street. Due to the postponement of the race, he will have the benefit of Richard Johnson’s assistance from the saddle, as the champion jockey, having been stood down by the doctor for concussion following a fall at Ludlow, would have had to forego the ride last Wednesday.
The Michael Scudamore (pictured below) trained ten year old, Mysteree, got to within one and a half lengths of Chase The Spud in the Midland Grand National (4m 1/2f soft) last March and meets the winner on thirteen pounds better terms on Saturday. As he had previously beaten the same horse by three and a quarter lengths (Haydock 3m4f heavy) when meeting him on the same terms as he will at the weekend, he does look well handicapped. It is a slight concern that he hasn’t been seen since that good run in The Midland Grand National but that emphatic Haydock victory over Chase The Spud came after an eight month break, so perhaps the plan was always going to be, to line up as a fresh horse.
The 8yo Pobbles Bay, trained by Welsh Maestro Evan Williams, won the Novices Chase on this card last year off a mark of 139. He reappeared over an inadequate two and a half miles at Aintree in November finishing a well beaten ninth, but the evidence of his three quarter length second to the useful Flintham over 3m2f in a Warwick Class2 Handicap Hurdle on heavy ground two years ago, strongly suggests that staying trips should be his forte. Only five pounds higher than for his course win he is another to consider.
Selection : Mysteree
E.W. : Pobbles Bay