TWO of Wales’ best steeplechasers of modern times are enjoying a well-earned retirement.
State of Play and Deep Purple are no longer at Evan Williams’ Llanfarcan base, having bowed out after tackling the demands of the 2012 Grand National.
State of Play, a 12-year-old, had a remarkable record given his fragility, finishing in the top four in the Aintree spectacular in three consecutive renewals.
His Hennessy Gold Cup triumph in 2006, was credited with putting the relatively unknown Williams then on the map.
The gelding, restricted to just 26 racecourse appearances because of his problems, also recorded a gutsy win in the 2008 Charlie Hall Chase, where he saw off an equally resolute Ollie Magern. But the veteran will be best remembered for his Grand National exploits, given it is hard to complete the course let alone finish in such creditable positions year after year.
Age caught up with the superstar by 2012 and it was touch and go whether he would make the line-up in his favourite race at all.
In the months leading up to it, Williams said:”It’s going to be difficult to get him there as he’s a little bit older and it’s going to take a lot more work again this year."
However, the gelding bloomed in the spring and I saw him enjoy a roll in the sand on my pre-National visit weeks before the big race.
Given the green light to head to Liverpool, it was sadly not a fairytale ending with jockey Noel Fehily unseated at the just the 5th fence.
Williams’ favourite horse returned home happy and healthy and time was called on his career by the Rucker family.
The trainer saw State of Play in the summer at their Worcestershire base, while 11-year-old Deep Purple is now also in the care of his owners.
Like his former stablemate, he was a regular in the top races and has successes in the 2009 Peterborough Chase, Charlie Hall Chase and three Grade two races over hurdles and fences to his name.
The son of Halling tested his mettle over longer distances, following plenty of success over short trips around two miles.
Following a brilliant win in December 2011 over a marathon trip, he failed to recapture his form after a fall in the Racing Post Chase.
Yet he could soon shine in a new career, once he is retrained in dressage by his owner’s daughter near Newbury.
“It’s going to be hard to fill their boots,” said Williams, who currently nurturing his young horses in the hope they will become something special.
The yard has recently been given planning permission for a new indoor schooling facility.
No doubt Poungach and Fingal Bay will have had plenty of attempts around theirs before a mouthwatering clash at Chepstow today (3.00).
Both debut over the larger obstacles and it will be fascinating for jump racing fans to see how they fare.
Victors Serenade is of interest in the 4.45 race, after impressing in his two wins last season, while the big handicap of the day is at Newmarket.
A huge field lines up for the Cesarewitch and David Pipe's 25-1 shot Decoy looks interesting at the bottom of the weights each-way, with the capable Hayley Turner on board.
The six-year-old goes on easier ground and should be fit from several starts over obstacles this summer.