Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade3) 3m 6 1/2f Chepstow Friday

welsh national chepstowFirst 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.

welshgrandnationalThe 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

Coral Welsh Grand National Tips (Handicap) 3m5 1/2f Chepstow Saturday

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. Dick Francis 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. Michael Scudamore's Mysteree has a fine chance of landing the spoils.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

John Gray