By Sean Goff | Horse Racing
The rearranged Welsh Grand National takes place at Chepstow on Saturday (3.20) and the extra week won’t make picking the winner of the 3m 5f stamina sapper any easier.
Rebeca Curtis’s TeaforThree has been at the head of the betting for weeks now and looks to have been laid out for the race. He will take high rank for the Aintree National if winning here but is short enough at 3/1 favourite for what’s going to be a battle all the way up the straight.
Champion jockey AP McCoy is in the saddle and the pair warmed up for this contest when finishing a 21-length sixth behind Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Bobs Worth in the Hennessy Gold Cup last November. While TeaforThree carried 10-6 that day – he has to hump 11-3 around Chepstow’s hills and valleys on Saturday.
What may be of more concern for the Curtis team is that there hasn’t been a winning favourite in this race since Silver Birch was successful for Paul Nicholls in 2004.
Lightweights have dominated this event but three of the last six winners have carried 11st plus to victory (Synchronised, Notre Pere and Halcon Gernerlardais) so there is hope for leading fancies Michel Le Bon, TeaforThree and Giles Cross who all break the 11st weight-carrying barrier.
But the race has become a young man’s game with Riverside Theatre in 1993 the last 10-year-old or upwards to win. Crucially this stat could count against Giles Cross – runner-up for the past two seasons and making his seasonal bow on Saturday – and Michel Le Bon as potential winners.
The unique challenge that Chepstow presents has proved crucial in identifying the winner of the Welsh Grand National as 13 of the last 21 victors got their eye in at the course earlier in the season.
McCoy’s mount has two wins from four starts at the track and his stamina is assured after he won the 4m Amatuers Riders National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2012. The Ulsterman last won this race on the ill-fated 2012 Gold Cup winner Synchronised in the 2010 renewal (postponed to January 2011).
Viking Blond is the well supported second-favourite with Paddy Power from Nigel Twiston Davies‘ stable and is a course winner having beating Alfie Spinner in a three-mile Novice Chase in 2011. He was 6/1 favourite for this race when pulled up last year and NTD won this with former Aintree Grand National winner Bindaree in 2003.
Paul Carberry got a late call from trainer Michael Scudamore to ride Monbeg Dude – a 3m 3f Grade 3 Cheltenham Chase winner (Viking Blond third, TeaforThree eighth) – last November.
With just 10st 1lb on his back, the gelding handled desperate conditions then and looks a solid each-way chance in a race that often descends into ‘a slog in a bog’ a long way from home. He could put it up to the favourite at around the 14/1 mark if taking to a track he’s never run at.
Mikey Ennis partners David Pipe’s Sona Sasta as he tries to become the first amateur winner since 1981. With just 9-7 to carry including Ennis’ 7lb claim Sona Sasta will think he’s running free.
Irish trainer John Paul Gilligan saddles 2010 Powers Gold Cup winner Jadanli who has been running consistenly on heavy ground and carries 10-5 here.
A 23-length winner of the Grade One contest at Fairyhouse that day at 25/1, he might run better than his odds suggest but lacks a run at Chepstow and is the wrong side of the age stats.
The former Willie Mullins-trained Arbor Supreme pulled up in the 2010 contest (run Jan 8, 2011) but won a four-mile handicap chase in heavy ground at Exeter in December and gets in here off bottom weight. At 20/1 with Paddy Power he may be staying on when others have cried enough.
While another former Closutton inmate Soll was tipped up as a lively outsider in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury (finished 9th) as he revels in the heavy ground and a test of stamina. He’s sure to get both on Saturday and is 14s from 20s with Paddy Power as he looks to make his presence felt.