It may be some nine days later than originally advertised, but the weather has relented and Chepstow’s Welsh National is good to go, with a field of 17 likely to line up for today’s extended 3m 5f test, live on Channel 4 at 3.20pm.
It’s a race which holds good memories for me, with my own family’s runner Le Beau Bai seeing it out best in mud up to his ears to win the race under Charlie Poste 12 months ago.
Sadly injury means a he’s unable to defend his title a year on, but all being well he’ll be back in December to try and reclaim the crown from this weekend’s hero.
So who will it be in his absence?
There are some quality challengers attempting to snaffle this season’s £51,255 winner’s prize, but surely none more so than clear favourite Teaforthree.
Trained in Wales by the ever improving Rebecca Curtis, Teaforthree did this column a mighty favour when taking the four miler at the Cheltenham Festival 10 months ago, and that very blend of stamina combined with a love of testing ground could make him hard to beat.
First of all the negatives regarding Teaforthree:
1. The stats are not great for horses that run in the Hennessy and then bid to win a Welsh National, but those doubts are countered firstly by AP McCoy not being overly hard on him when his chance had gone at Newbury (finished sixth, beaten 27 lengths by a horse who’s now Gold Cup favourite), and secondly by the fact the aforementioned weather delay has played directly into Curtis’s hands, granting her valuable extra time to help him recover between races.
2. The price: at the time of writing the 7/2 available with William Hill is the best in the village, though this may be taken on when the firms stage their weekly Saturday morning price war from 8.30am. It might not be a flashy double figure quote, but in light of the ensuing list of positives, perhaps it’s understandable!
3. Two runs this season have resulted in comprehensive defeats at Cheltenham (8th) and Newbury (6th), with an aggregate beaten total of 67 lengths. However, Curtis has been quick to defend those, suggesting this is a horse who has always needed a couple of runs to bring him to concert pitch. Do the stats back this up? Emphatically yes…season 2010/11 saw his first win of the campaign arrive on his third run. Season 2011/12 saw his first win of the campaign arrive on….you’ve guessed it….run number three.
1. His form figures in four career starts at Chepstow read: 2,3,1,1.
2. The presence of Across The Bay means Teaforthree will carry a more attractive racing weight of 11st 3lbs.
3. AP McCoy is on board.
4. Stamina is assured.
5. He is proven on Heavy ground at Chepstow.
Given the likelihood of improvement from Newbury now he returns to his favourite track, plus the extra gap between races, he really does appear to be the most likely solution.
Granted it’s not the boldest of selections, but among the opposition the admirable Giles Cross is now 11 and hasn’t seen the track since April, whilst his trainer has openly admitted he’d have loved him to have managed a prep race. Victor
Dartnall was desperately unlucky to see his string hit by an outbreak of equine herpes, and he’d be a hugely popular winner here the veteran with Giles Cross, but his string that have been in action in recent days have mainly been in need of a run, so he is passed over.
Alfie Spinner heads to Sandown Park, Sona Sasta has to prove he stays beyond three miles, Master Overseer pulled up in this in 2011 before winning the Midlands National, but never runs two races alike, Universal Soldier has done well for Charlie Longsdon but has twice been well beaten by Teaforthree, Across The Bay has been in brilliant form and loves the ground but faces a Herculean task under 11st 12lbs, while Monbeg Dude faces a hike in class.
I’ll be there to help saddle a really tough and hardy sort in the shape of Incentivise, a horse who’s returned to form this time around with wins at Bangor and Fontwell.
He’s a few pounds out of the handicap proper, but young Killian Moore can do the weight and takes seven off, meaning he’s only a pound wrong.
One of Incentivise’s owners is a proud Welshman from Cardiff, a massive supporter of the sport who has always wanted to have a runner in the race.
His horse will be far be disgraced if his home work is anything to go by, and will enjoy the ground and is in really good shape, but being realistic if he could bag a place we’d all be elated, though don’t be too surprised if he does exactly that given how he managed third in a Classic Chase at Warwick in 2011 off a higher mark.
However, they might all be playing for places behind the exciting nine year old Teaforthree, and it looks like the bookies have got it spot on in making him their 7/2 market leader.
Elsewhere around there’s some decent sport around the country, and Joanne Foster’s Peaks Of Fire can return to winning ways in Newcastle’s two mile 0-115 Handicap Hurdle at 1.05pm.
A winner for Tim Vaughan at Uttoxeter in the summer, he loves this ground and was only just found wanting when his stamina ran out over 2m 3f at Market Rasen on Boxing Day.
A return to the minimum trip and Sam Drake’s seven pound claim could be just what’s needed, especially as he’s up against an odds on favourite who probably didn’t win a great race last time – Nicky Richards’s One For Harry is a 10/11 shot overnight, but only won a handicap at Sedgefield where the second, third, fourth and sixth places horses have all run since and been beaten.
For that reason alone the value lies in the 7/2 about Peaks Of Fire with Paddy Power or BetVictor.
Lastly, I can pass on a good word for John Francome’s runner Poet in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park (2.25pm).
This is a stern test of his Cheltenham Festival credentials against some potential top notchers, but he’s guaranteed to act on the ground, did it well on his hurdling debut, and was useful on the Flat.
The dream might end here, but I can’t resist throwing a few quid in his direction at 7/2 with any of Blue Square, Boylesports or Ladbrokes.
Saturday’s best bets:
3.20 Chepstow – Coral Welsh National Handicap Chase – 3 Teaforthree (win) @ 7/2 (William Hill)Posted 4 years, 10 months ago