Age proved no barrier to the evergreen Raz De Maree, as he stormed to victory in the Coral Welsh National on Saturday.
After numerous untidy leaps during the first circuit, Gavin Cromwell’s 13-year-old chaser found himself towards the back of the pack. His inexperienced jock, 5lb claimer James Bowen, refused to panic. The old timer responded to the urgings of his young apprentice and gradually weaved his way through the field and into contention.
Turning for home it’s fair to say that Bowen was going for everything in the hope of landing a blow. At the third last fence he’d just about latched on to the front four, and by the penultimate fence had drawn alongside fellow pensioner Alfie Spinner at the head of affairs. Though in a little close at the last fence, Bowen and his willing partner had done enough, and galloped on relentlessly for a six-length success.
Alfie Spinner made it a one-two for the equine wrinklies, with Final Nudge a further nine-lengths back in third.
The Co Meath handler spoke of the successful duo: “He (Bowen) gave him a peach of a ride. He was flat to the boards down the back, but he didn't panic. This is fantastic, just brilliant. He's the oldest horse since the war apparently and only the second Irish winner. He's such a pleasure to have, it's fantastic. He's only a small horse but has such heart.”
At just 16, young claimer James Bowen is a terrific talent, and gave the old stayer a cracking ride. Simply bursting with pride, he said of the gutsy partner: “He's only a few years younger than me! We didn't travel anywhere at all and I thought we'd do well to get round and pick up a place. Once he passed a few horses he locked on and we ended up getting there too soon. It's amazing to win. You grow up watching these races at home and to win it in my first season riding is amazing.”
Kerry Lee had trained the winner in 2016, and must have fancied her chances halfway up the home straight. Thrilled with the performance of the runner-up, she said: “Leading three out and two out was quite heart-stopping. I thought Richard Patrick (another 5lb claimer) gave the horse the most fantastic ride. It's his first Welsh National, as it is for James Bowen. We saw two young jockeys at the top of their game.”
David Dennis was targeting the Grand National at Aintree for third home Final Nudge. The nine-year-old ran a cracker under the burden of 11-6, and appeared to see out the trip well.
Heading the under-card at Chepstow, was the Grade One Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle. The race has gone to numerous talented horses over the years, and 12 months ago was won by the Philip Hobbs-trained Defi Du Seuil, who went on to take the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
That is likely to be the target for Saturday’s winner, the Nicky Henderson-trained We Have A Dream. Owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, the youngster is now three from three in the UK, having got the better of Gary Moore’s Sussex Ranger in a thrilling finish.
The front two in the market had the race between them approaching the last flight. Both were slick over the obstacle and fast away, but it was Henderson’s youngster that had the necessary gears to stretch a length and-a-half clear at the line. The runner-up lost little in defeat, and both are likely to put in bold displays at Cheltenham in March. We Have A Dream Is currently second favourite for the Triumph behind stablemate Apple’s Shakira. Whilst Sussex Ranger is as low as 14s for the juvenile showpiece.