GWENT had a grasp on the Welsh National trophy thanks to a most determined horse who came from another parish to claim the unlikeliest of victories.
Winner Monbeg Dude was so far back at one point that his rugby-player owners thought the eight-year-old had been pulled up, but ice-cool jockey Paul Carberry had other ideas.
Trainer Michael Scuda-more, formerly a talented rugby player for Ebbw Vale and Wales’ under-19 side, owns the horse with some of the sport’s finest – Gloucester’s Mike Tindall, James Simpson-Daniel and Nick Robinson, of London Wasps.
Although not at Chepstow, Tindall was taking on mud elsewhere at Gloucester’s match against London Irish, awaiting news on his mobile phone at half-time.
His getting a joyous text message was looking doubtful at one stage, as his three friends stood hushed, watching the race as the field turned for home.
With four to jump, ‘the Dude’, as they call him, was not even in the TV picture, as outsider Triggerman, perennial Welsh National contender Giles Cross and warm favourite Teaforthree traded blows.
Some sticky jumps looked as though they would hamper the bid, but once pulled to the outside, Carberry’s red jacket gathered momentum on the slightly better ground.
Mutters of a few words soon turned to rampant cheers for the rugby men as Carberry motored alongside Teaforthree.
McCoy became more animated in the saddle in a desperate attempt to keep the advantage for Wales, but it was obvious there was only going to be one winner.
Despite another awkward leap at the last, Monbeg Dude always had the upper hand over his rallying rival for the £39,222 first prize.
For his owners, the final stages were as nail-biting as a clash between England and Wales in their favourite sport.
Robinson said: “We were watching on the screen and he (the horse) was off it, but Paul has just picked them off one by one.
“I’m in disbelief. My heart was pounding and I think that’s how my family gets when they watch me play.”
The rugby-playing trio’s involvement with the gelding came as a spur-of-the-moment decision, especially on Tindall’s part.
“We were at Cheltenham sales and Mike started bidding,” said Simpson-Daniel.
“It came to the Dude and he was bidding away against himself, I think, and we got him for 12,000 guineas. He said to me, ‘will you take a leg?’ and I rang up Nick and got him involved too.”
Soon after arriving at Scudamore’s yard the horse fractured his pelvis by trying to jump a post.
After a turbulent time, connections have only recently seen their fun horse bear fruit, with an easy win at Cheltenham last time and now the biggest race in Wales.
“The key has been keeping him sound,” said Scudamore, who received a congratulatory handshake from his jockey brother, Tom, post-race.
“This is incredible for the team at home.”
Carberry’s ride earned him plaudits across the board, and even he acknowledged it was one of his best as he eyeballed the champion jockey and nudged past him on the run to the line.
Saturday’s success was the first for him in the race but not the Scudamores, as Michael’s father, Peter, a great jockey in his day, won it four times.
Over to Channel 4
CHEPSTOW’S meeting was due to bring a curtain down on the BBC’s televised coverage of racing.
However, because the race had to be moved from December 27 to the new year because of the weather, its contract had come to an end, with the rights passed to Channel 4.
A spokeswoman for the BBC said discussions between the two broadcasters are confidential, and due to the late cancellation of the Coral Welsh National, a film called North West Frontier was shown in its place over the festive period.
Some racing fans expressed their disappointment there wasn’t something shown to mark the 50 years on December 27.
“The montage content planned for the programme was shown on the BBC Sport website,” the spokeswoman said.
“Due to the late cancellation of the event and it being Christmas Eve, it was not possible to create a new programme to take its place in such a short space of time.”
Flagship racing presenter Clare Balding has moved across to Channel 4 along with a fresh line-up of presenters.