First run in 1895, it moved to Chepstow in 1949 where it’s inaugural running was won by the 10yo Fighting Line, ridden by Dick Francis, better known for being aboard the Queen Mother’s Devon Loch in that inexplicable incident in the 1956 Grand National, when seeming to have the race at his mercy, and for his subsequent career as a crime writer. There have been plenty more 10yo’s in the winners enclosure over the decades, but no particular generation has dominated, and winners have come from all age groups between 6 and 12. Weight, not surprisingly, has had it’s say, and only 2 animals have carried more than 11-7 to victory since Carvill’s Hill won in 1991. In a contest not far short of 4 miles, run over Chepstow’s galloping track, usually on testing ground, bottomless reserves of stamina are essential, and the 4 winners of the Chepstow marathon, who went on to land The Cheltenham Gold Cup, Burrough Hill Lad, Master Oats, Synchronised and most recently Native River, had it in spades. Last year’s winner Elegant Escape, is obviously well endowed in this department, and will be attempting to become only the 2nd horse to win the race in consecutive years, (Bonanza Boy 1988 1989) and indeed, give the excellent Colin Tizzard his 3rd victory in 4 years, (Native River 2016).
It was a pretty impressive effort by Elegant Escape last year, as not only was he one of only four six year olds to have ever won the race, but he was also only the second to shoulder more than 11-7 since Carvill’s Hill’s win 28 years ago. Racing off a mark of 151, he took it up two out, and ran on strongly to win by 1 1/4L and 4L from Ramses De Teillee and Saturday’s opponent Yala Enki. He ran well again a month later when going down by 3/4L to Frodon but was then well beaten in the Gold Cup and Aintree’s Betway Bowl Chase. He has made a promising start to this season finishing 2nd in The Charlie Hall at Wetherby, and 3rd in Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy Chase off a mark of 160. The Handicapper has left him on the same mark, leaving him with top weight of 11-12 to carry on Friday, 9 lbs higher than last year it is a big ask for the tough 7yo, but he is a year older, and one feels that this has been his target for some time.
Last year’s 3rd, Yala Enki, following wind surgery in August, moved from Venetia Williams to the Ditcheat yard of Paul Nicholls. He showed up well in the Ladbroke until the 17th for his new yard, before dropping away, and there is no way of knowing if the wind surgery has been a success, but he meets Elegant Escape on 9lbs better for that 5 1/2L beating, stays really well, and loves heavy ground.
Mr Nicholls who has won the race twice before is also represented by the 7yo Truckers Lodge, and his form figures at the track read an impressive 11241. He has only raced 3 times over fences, winning once, but that was here at Chepstow last time (29 Oct) when taking a beginners chase in workmanlike fashion. His stamina credentials were certainly on display when easily winning a handicap hurdle in very deep ground over the course last December, and his pedigree, by the strong stayer Westerner, out of an Accordion mare who won twice between the flags on heavy, would certainly suggest that staying should be his game. He is to be ridden by the useful 3lbs claimer, Lorcan Williams, and with just 10-2 on his back could be a serious blot on the Handicap.
The Christian Williams trained 9yo, Potters Corner, also has a pretty impressive course record. He has won 3 of his 4 starts at the track, including last time, when winning a 3 miles Hurdle on Soft, under a great ride from the excellent 7lbs claimer Jack Tudor, 20 days ago. He showed what an out and out stayer he is when winning Uttoxeter’s Midland Grand National (4m 2f Heavy) on truly attritional ground last March, and presumably, with one eye on the Handicapper has been campaigned over the smaller obstacles since. If Tudor is on board again he will have only 10-2 to carry, and will be one of the best equipped to cope if conditions are seriously testing.
The Philip Hobbs trained Steely Addition has won 2 of his 5 chases, including a win over the course, (3m Heavy) last December. The Handicapper took quite a harsh view putting him up 13lbs but despite a convincing victory at Hereford in March he has relented a little and the son of Craigsteel races on Friday off a mark of 147 giving him a racing weight of 10-13. Never having raced beyond 3m1f there are obvious questions about his stamina, but the 7yo is stoutly bred, and it’s worth remembering Phillip’s excellent record at Chepstow.
The Lucinda Russell trained Big River is prone to making the odd mistake but it wasn’t his fault when unluckily brought down in The Scottish Borders National at Kelso 19 days ago. Travelling smoothly the Scottish trained 9 yo came to grief at the 14th following the fall of the favourite, Caventara, but I suppose every cloud has a silver lining and he is able to race on Saturday off the same mark, giving him a racing weight of 10-3. Given a clear round he could become the first winner from across the border since Peaty Sandy took the trophy back to Scotland in 1981.
The Dan Skelton trained Benny’s King had never travelled further when taking
a 2m 6 1/2f Class2 Newbury Handicap 28 days ago, but the manner of his victory strongly suggested there might be more to come over further, and if turning up
(Also engaged Wetherby Thursday) this stoutly bred 8yo could be interesting.
Selection. : Truckers Lodge
EW. : Steely Addition