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A delayed but nonetheless much anticipated renewal of the Coral Welsh National. Jumps fans were treated to some outstanding racing over the Christmas period and the fact that this race could not be run was probably a blessing as there was more than enough to satisfy our appetites in December and we now have something to look forward to in a miserably wet January.
Like many people I had hoped that the extra time would have given O’Faolains Boy the opportunity to recover from his race at Newbury sufficiently and arrive here with an outstanding chance with conditions to suit, however connections have decided not to run and we must wait with interest to see where he goes next.
The Coral Welsh National is a war of attrition like almost no other race in the calendar. Run invariably on deep ground over three miles five and a half furlongs on a testing, undulating track, there is simply no hiding place and certainly no room for inexperience or frailty. Only two horses since Master Oats in 1994 have carried more than 11 stone to victory here and one of those was Synchronised who defied a weight of 11st 6lbs and went on to win the Gold Cup. I’m almost certain that there is nothing of his calibre in here and with that in mind I simply cannot have some of the top weighted horses.
Black Thunder shoulders top weight here and it will be nothing short of incredible if he were to win, particularly given the relatively modest recent form of the Paul Nicholls yard. I couldn’t back him with counterfeit money. Likewise Vics Canvas who is nearly old enough to vote, Shotgun Paddy who has had more chances than Lionel Messi in recent years and Masters Hill, will all need to put in career best performances here to have any chance whatsoever of winning. Given the history of the race and their profiles I just cannot see it.
To win a Welsh National we know that you have to stay forever and relish testing conditions but those qualities are seemingly not enough in their own right. Recent history also shows that you need to race prominently, as making up ground on a testing surface on an undulating track is very difficult to do, unless you are extremely well handicapped, which I don’t think any of these runners are. Being prominently ridden not only means that you are in the race from the start and don’t have to make up ground but it also seems to permit the horse to get into a better rhythm with their jumping and this is enormously important.
Last year’s race was a prime example when Emperor’s Choice and Benvolio got a prominent position and did all the donkey work. They got into a fantastic rhythm out in front and jumped extremely well on the whole before fighting out the finish. I was extremely impressed with their performances and you would have to think that both of them could be involved in the finish once again given that they have proven their credentials. Importantly, they don’t have to make the running. They did so last year as they clearly wanted a prominent position and to make it a decent test but there are others in the race who may do the donkey work for them this time around and that could make them an even more potent threat from just off the pace. Confirmed front runners such as Rigadin De Beauchene, Red Devil Lads and Bob Ford all look set to run and they could set the race up perfectly for Emperor’s Choice and Benvolio. Emperor’s Choice in particular appears to me to be the outstanding candidate. He jumps so well and stays forever and the fact that he rallied so strongly last season was an incredible effort after setting the pace for so long. Benvolio is 7lbs better off with Emperor’s Choice this year and whilst I have touched upon the form of the modest form of the yard, that has clearly been factored into the price as Benvolio is available at an incredible 20/1. They are the two outstanding candidates for me in this year’s race.
Current market leaders Cogry and Upswing have far more to prove to my mind and although they are less exposed, I don’t really fear them and certainly wouldn’t be siding with them at their current prices. Upswing in particular doesn’t appear to me as though the race will suit him. He is highly likely to be held up, at best in mid division and he may struggle to land a blow if he doesn’t get into a good rhythm. Barry Geraghty’s also doesn’t ride at Chepstow too often and has only had one winner here in the last 5 years albeit from just 9 rides. Chepstow and this race in particular is a unique test and I have a feeling that Upswing won’t be ridden prominently enough to land a blow. He also has only one chase victory to his name which came at just short of three miles. Cogry likewise could find himself shuffled back in the pack early on and I’m just not convinced that he has the class or the experience at this stage of his career to deal with the challenges of this race.
Mountainous is potentially well treated as a previous winner of the race from a 5lb lower mark but he is another who may struggle to get into the race from off the pace. He is potentially a big danger given his previous form and racing weight but he hasn’t been seen at his best since and he was pulled up in last year’s renewal when taken well out of his comfort zone from an early stage.
Rigadin De Beauchene would appear to be decent value at the prices. The more testing the ground the better for him and he will no doubt attempt to make all. He is a thorough stayer and is a big danger from a light weight if arriving in peak condition and bringing his best form. Neither of those is assured given his in and out profile and the hard race that he had at Haydock last time but I couldn’t let him go unbacked at 20/1. You only have to look back to his win in the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock a couple of seasons ago where he showed bottomless stamina and courage to make all and beat Emperor’s Choice by 10 lengths. He is 4lb better off at the weights albeit that race was a long time ago. If he has recovered sufficiently from recent exertions then he could be very dangerous and at the price it is well worth taking the chance. At the very least we will get a run for our money and he will also boost the chances of our other selections Emperor’s Choice and Benvolio by setting a strong pace.
2pts win EMPEROR’S CHOICE @ 10/1 (General)
1pt win BENVOLIO @ 20/1 (Betway, 16/1 General)
1pt win RIGADIN DE BEAUCHENE @ 20/1 (General)