War of attrition at Chepstow – Coral Welsh National preview
ONE of the toughest tests in the racing calendar became even harder this week with the ground declared “possibly the heaviest it’s ever been” on the eve of the contest.
Always an annual war of attrition, the Coral Welsh National is lucky to be on after more than ten inches of rain in December alone gave the Chepstow turf a massive soaking.
Originally due to be run two days after Christmas, the race was put back following a dire festive period weather wise.
In the last few days officials’ optimism turned to confidence as the grey skies vanished, although memories of 260mm of rain from December 1 to New Year’s Eve remain fresh.
“We were totally waterlogged, almost flooded when we abandoned on Christmas Eve,” explained clerk of the course Keith Ottesen.
“It has improved enough for the horses to race on. It’s possibly the heaviest it’s ever been. When we normally call the ground heavy, there are plenty of places that are soft but not this time. It’s super heavy.”
Ottesen is to make a last minute call whether to omit potentially six fences in the 3m 5f race because those areas have not taken the rain quite so well. Plenty of mudlovers are to take in the stamina test and four out of the ten last winners raced in the Welsh National previously.
Eleven-year-old Giles Cross, runner-up for the last two years, takes his chance again and while sure to be suited by the clay surface, a question mark hangs over his stable’s form. He is also not in the right age bracket, given the last ten winners were aged nine or younger. Ante-post favourite is Teaforthree, whose connections are hoping he will become the first Welsh-trained winner since Norther in 1965.
Rebecca Curtis reports the nine-year-old to have been in fine fettle since the Argus paid him a visit last month.
She concedes he is “short in the betting at 7-2” but that’s because his profile is hard to fault.
A strong stayer, course winner and with the ground perfect, champion jockey Tony McCoy seems assured to have a decent spin around Chepstow.
“He’s in great form,” Curtis added.
Welsh hopes also lie with Harouet, who has just 10st 1lb to carry. “We are very happy with him, over the moon,” said trainer Peter Bowen.
Ex-Scarlets rugby player Regan King is hoping my pick Universal Soldier will triumph – he owns the eight-year-old with Lindie Donaldson.
Trainer Charlie Longsdon reports the horse, aptly named for such a test, to have come out of his prep run behind Quartz De Thaix at Haydock well.
“I would like to think he has improved,” he said. “This has always been the plan. He’s very laid back and likes heavy ground. We’ve always thought this was the race for him.”
The gelding posted an impressive performance at the course in January 2011 over the smaller obstacles, powering clear of his rivals.
Longsdon said a line can be put through his charge’s no-show on his last run at Chepstow, as he was pulled up with a small injury.
“He had excuses that day,” said Longsdon, who is planning to deploy some headgear to help the horse concentrate.
Others high up in the betting but ones I'll oppose are the temperamental Viking Blond, who ran terribly in this race last year and Michel Le Bon, who looks a shade too high in the weights.
Only the toughest of warriors will stand the test, so it’s the Soldier each-way for me as the value has gone about the favourite.