First run at Chepstow in 1949, the Welsh National is this weekend’s feature event.
Rain caused the cancellation at Christmas, and though the ground remains heavy, the re-arranged fixture looks sure to go ahead. The marathon contest is run at a little over three and-a-half miles, and is certain to prove a gruelling test for a competitive field of 20 runners.
Vicente tops the weights and heads here after a pleasing return at Cheltenham in November, when a close second to Perfect Candidate off a mark of 150. He won the Scottish National on very different ground in April, and is now 5lb higher in the handicap. It usually takes a serious Gold Cup contender to challenge here off such a lofty weight. Native River managed it last year, and back in 2011 Synchronised carted 11-6 to victory. Vicente is good, but not quite in that league. He could run a huge race, but he’s up against it.
The same can be said of Rock The Kasbah and Beware The Bear, who are next in the weights. The former appears a doubt, with Philip Hobbs likely to decide this morning. The trainer is clearly concerned that the ground will be too testing. It’s a shame, as the horse clearly loves the track. But I’m inclined to agree with Hobbs on this one.
Beware The Bear won the Rehearsal Chase last month, though I’m not sure how. Seemingly beaten turning for home, he battled on bravely, and as the leaders faltered, picked up the pieces to lead after the last. A 4lb penalty isn’t severe, but he’s no Gold Cup winner and I can’t have him as the winner of this.
Chase The Spud will love the ground, and returned to action in style when winning at Haydock. He’s a relentless stayer and looks to be improving despite now being a 10-year-old. Nevertheless, he’s gone up plenty for his win in the Midlands National and that Haydock success. I’m not sure he has the class to cope with such a hike in the handicap.
Along with the top-weight, Paul Nicholls has Silsol entered. The nine-year-old rarely jumps a fence, but has performed to a high standard in staying hurdles. He beat Native River in last year’s West Yorkshire at Wetherby, but was somewhat below-par on his return from a year off when down the field in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Haydock. The ground shouldn’t prove an issue, and his chase mark is some 10lbs lower than that over hurdles. Bryony Frost takes a handy 5lb off his back, and if she can get him jumping he could run a huge race. He has a touch of class.
Though seven and eight-year-olds have dominated in recent times, Mountainous was successful at 11 in the 2015 renewal (ran in early 2016). That gives hope to those fancying Houblon Des Obeaux, who came third in this last year. He could head to Sandown, but should he take his chance at Chepstow, he’ll be a full 10lb better off this time around. He’s another with that touch of class, and I fancy he’ll run well.
Wild West Wind lacks experience, though surprisingly, that rarely holds them back in this marathon handicap. The Tom George-trained nine-year-old took the trial in early December, and has been raised 4lb for that effort. I felt his jumping was a little ‘safe’ on that occasion, and this race is a much tougher task. He defeated 12-year-old Alfie Spinner (now 13) by a couple of lengths, but probably needs to improve a fair bit to land a blow here. I’m not convinced he’s good enough.
One equine pensioner that could again go well is the Irish raider Raz De Maree. Runner-up to Native River in last year’s race, he’s on a similar mark, and has the talented James Bowen in the saddle. The 5lb claim is a great help, and this young jock is one of the best. He could well run into a place.
Vintage Clouds is an interesting contender and has the right kind of profile. The eight-year-old is bred to operate in testing ground, and ran well last time behind Clan Des Obeaux. He needs to prove that these marathon trips truly suit, but I fancy he will. His best form has come on flatter tracks, and that’s a slight concern. Nevertheless, I fancy he’ll run well.
Mysteree certainly has proved his liking for a gruelling test of stamina, and he looks ideally handicapped to go close here. He’s not had a prep-run, and that has proved a negative in this race over the years. However, he goes well fresh, having won his last three seasonal renewals. He won the Eider Chase last year, and came close to landing the Midlands National. The ground is ideal, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the first three.
Michael Scudamore took the 2012 renewal thanks to Monbeg Dude, and I fancy his sweet little Mysteree will do the business on Saturday. It’s going to be a slog, and he’s a slogger. I’ll also be placing a few quid on Houblon Des Obeaux, in the hope that he retains enough ability to make the most of his generous looking handicap mark. If Houblon heads to Sandown, I’ll splash the each-way cash on Silsol.
Best of luck to those having a punt.