Practically neighbours with yards in the beautiful Herefordshire countryside, it proved to be a memorable Saturday afternoon for Venetia Williams and Kerry Lee.
With the UK in the midst of one of the wettest winters on record, step forward tried and tested mud-lovers. Venetia Williams is always the ‘go to’ trainer when the word ‘heavy’ features in a race ground description, and in Mountainous Kerry Lee has an ally that revels in the most testing of conditions.
Kerry Lee only took over from the ‘old man’ during the summer, but has had a terrific winter to date. Things got a whole lot better at Chepstow when the stables staying star Mountainous took the Welsh Grand National for the second time. Having dropped to an attractive handicap mark, many anticipated a huge run from the 2013 winner, and so it proved.
With all his previous career wins coming on soft or heavy ground, conditions proved ideal. And ridden with supreme confidence by Jamie Moore he swept to the lead three fences out. As others floundered, Mountainous galloped relentlessly to victory. Firebird Flyer finished with a flurry to take second spot, with Shotgun Paddy and Saroque filling the places.
“So much work has gone into him at home,” said Lee. “He hasn't had a lot of racing and has been nurtured at home. I've known he was so well for some weeks now, so we were really fed up when the race was abandoned over Christmas. We managed to keep him fresh and sweet and he really enjoyed this ground. When it chucked it down before the race I was delighted.”
The winner looks set to head for Aintree, though his last appearance in the Liverpool showpiece ended with a fall at Valentines in 2014. Ground will obviously prove key to his chances.
Whilst Lee was celebrating at Chepstow her illustrious neighbour, Venetia Williams, was claiming another valuable prize when Yala Enki captured the William Hill Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton. Her French recruit had romped home in his seasonal debut at Exeter before looking a non-stayer in the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock. However, on Saturday the track, trip and ground conditions all appeared to suit and thanks to an impressive ride from Charlie Deutsch the six year-old led from pillar to post.
The free running son of French sire Nickname was sent on from the drop of the flag, stealing a good half dozen lengths. He stretched the field in the early part of the race, but a few indifferent leaps down the back straight saw the field close in. Deutsch remained calm on top and allowed the horse to get back into a rhythm. Turning for home the young jockey had asked his mount to extend and he soon had those in behind under pressure. Westren Warrior and Ibis Du Rheu chased in vain with the winner holding on gamely by two lengths.
After the win that he described as his biggest to date, Deutsch said: “He really was quite tough and gutsy. I kept kicking and squeezing him off the bend, and he just kept finding more and more. He was very brave and he stays.”
So a day to remember for Herefordshire’s finest with the promise of many more to come.