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Thursday 20 December 2018

Welsh Grand National

The Welsh Grand National, run over 3 mile 5½ furlongs at Chepstow and due off at 2.50 p.m. on Tuesday, December 27, has a safety limit of twenty, but is invariably hotly contested. The race is often run in demanding conditions and, with the going at the Monmouthshire course already good to soft and rain forecast, another ‘war of attrition’ seems likely.

For those who fancy history repeating itself, the first four home in the 2017 renewal, Raz De Maree (25/1), Alfie Spinner (66/1), Final Nudge (25/1) and Vintage Clouds (12/1), are all among the 59 entries that stood their ground at the latest declaration stage. At the time of writing, though, Elegant Escape (8/1), trained by Colin Tizzard, heads the ante post market after finishing second, beaten 10 lengths, behind comfortable winner Sizing Tennessee in the Ladbrokes Trophy, formerly the Hennessy Gold Cup, at Newbury earlier this month.

The six-year-old has yet to win beyond 3 miles, but finished first and second on his two previous visits to Chepstow and is just 4lb worse off for the 7 lengths he beat Dingo Dollar (16/1) at Newbury. Both horses remain open to significant improvement over fences, but just three six-year-olds have won the Welsh National since 1948 so, statistically, they look up against it.

A similar comment applies to Ramses De Teillee (8/1), trained by David Pipe, who’s 3-3 over 2 miles 7½ furlongs over fences at Chepstow, including the Welsh Grand National Trial earlier this month, for which he carries just a 4lb penalty.

However, Pipe may also be represented by the nine-year-old Vieux Lion Rouge (25/1), who likewise ran an encouraging trial when second of 18, beaten 4½ lengths, behind Walk In The Mill in the Becher Chase, over 3 miles 2 furlongs, on the National Course at Aintree earlier this month. Left with plenty to do at the fourth last, Vieux Lion Rouge closed on the winner all the way to the line and, having previously won the Grand National Trial, over 3 miles 4½ furlongs, at Haydock off today’s handicap mark of 146, makes no little appeal.

The Master of Pond House clearly holds a strong hand, with last year’s sixth, Rathlin Rose (50/1) – who, with 10st 1lb, may struggle to beat the ballot – also in the field, but, at the odds on offer, it’s hard to get away from Vieux Lion Rouge. He ran well on his sole start over hurdles at Chepstow, has distance and going to suit and appears well-handicapped, so there appears no reason why he shouldn’t go, at least, very close on his second start back following a wind operation.

Selection: Chepstow 2.50 Vieux Lion Rouge (25/1) to win

Monday 3 December 2018

3.10 Lingfield, Wednesday, December 5

As might be expected, in a 0-60 amateur riders’ handicap, worth less than £3,000 to the winner, recent winning form in the Betway Stayers’ Amateur Riders’ Handicap (3.10) at Lingfield on Wednesday is in short supply. However, one horse who appears to have brighter prospects than most is Evan Williams’ 4-year-old gelding, Knab Rock, due to be ridden by his daughter Isabel.

The son of Mastercraftsman didn’t see a racecourse until August, when finishing third of six, beaten 8 lengths, behind Dorette in a ‘bumper’, over 2 miles 1 furlongs at Newton Abbott. He failed to make much of an impact in three novice stakes races – including two over a woefully inadequate 7½ furlongs – at Ffos Las and Chepstow in September but, after a 52-day break, ran with much more promise on his handicap debut, over course and distance, 15 days ago.

Ridden by Shane Kelly on that occasion, Knab Rock was held up in the last pair and, when asked for an effort inside the final quarter of a mile, kept on to finish fifth of 10, beaten 2¾ lengths, behind the gambled-on Lumen. Despite failing to trouble the judge, he was, nevertheless, closing on the winner at the finish and, after just four starts on the level, may be capable of better yet.

He’s clearly no world-beater, but he’s been dropped 2lb in the weights for his latest effort so, with Isabel Williams capable of riding at 9st 8lb – and, therefore, able to claim her full 3lb allowance – he must surely have a decent chance of winning an ordinary race, in which his rivals are fully exposed as moderate, at best.

Selection: Lingfield 3.10 Knab Rock to win 14-1