27 December 2018
Elegant Escape was a high class winner of the Welsh Grand National.
The going was soft, though the times suggested conditions weren’t too holding. The bumper crowd was entertained by a variety of amusements, including a parade of hounds, a male voice choir, a military band, jazz in the marquee, Luke Harvey presenting for ITV4 and fine racing from Kempton on the big screen. It was overcast but dry.
The National, over almost three and three quarter miles and 22 fences, started on time at 2.50, after the 20 runners paraded and the Welsh national anthem had been played. The stamina-laden Aintree regular Vieux Lion Rouge shared the lead with Yala Enki for the first three miles. The latter went for home turning into the straight but Ramses De Teillee and the 3/1 favourite Elegant Escape soon loomed up, going well. Both horses were untested at this extreme distance of almost three and three quarter miles. Ramses made a crucial mistake at the fourth last and once Yala Enki weakened at the next Elegant Escape was able to go a few lengths clear. Ramses tried valiantly to close the gap, but the leader sealed victory with a big jump at the last. Though tiring, he willingly responded to his rider Tom O’Brien’s urgings and finished a length and a quarter ahead. The winner is only a six-year-old and in carrying 11 stone 8 pounds he has a similar profile to the 2016 victor Native River, who went on to take this year’s Gold Cup. The Aintree National is another possible target for Elegant Escape, who is quoted at 20/1.
Yala Enki, conceding three pounds to the winner, stayed on again to finish third, four lengths away. The Peter Bowen-trained Rons Dream came in fourth, ridden by son Sean. Last season’s winner Raz De Maree plugged on to finish fifth. James Bowen, who won the 2017 race when aged only 16, pulled up his mount, Hollybush Henry.
After the presentation, the winning trainer Colin Tizzard dropped the race trophy, but fortunately no harm was done.
The racing had begun with a big-field maiden hurdle over 2m4f and, appropriately, a Welsh-trained winner. Many had chances turning into the straight but one by one they dropped away. Evan Williams’s four-year-old Present Value (13/2) had shaped nicely on his debut at Ffos Las and he took the lead between the last two flights. Ridden by Adam Wedge, he drew right away on the run-in to score by seven lengths. Hill Street stayed on to pinch second place from Jasmin Des Bordes. The latter was going as well as anything halfway up the straight and might do better dropped in trip.
The Nicky Henderson stable usually gets plenty of winners at this time of year but the 2m4f chase went to his namesake Paul. His Doitforthevillage (7/1) came from last place to lead at the fourth last fence and promptly went three lengths up. Calipto, hoping to make it six wins in seven years for the Venetia Williams yard, tried to go with him. However, he was already a spent force when he unseated his rider at the final fence. That left Doitforthevillage well clear and Paddy Brennan steered him to a facile seven length success. Dusky Lark, who had shared the lead for most of the race, plugged on to finish second.
The main supporting race on the card, the Finale Juvenile Hurdle, was a cracker. Nicky Henderson’s Adjali, the pick of the paddock, had strong form in France, had beaten his chief rival Quel Destin there, and was already favourite for the Triumph Hurdle. Sam Twiston-Davies set a brisk pace on the Paul Nicholls-trained Quel Destin (7/4), with Adjali shadowing him until pulled out to challenge after the penultimate flight. The leader responded by pulling out more, and kept on doing so; however hard the favourite tried, he could not get past. Quel Destin was a neck in front at the line.
Four of the ten in the 3m hurdle were trained in Wales and one of them, Virginia Chick (9/2) took the spoils for Evan Williams, with his daughter Isabel in the saddle. The mare was noted travelling well on the turn into the straight and made ground steadily to take a share of the lead two out with Truckers Lodge. Still going best over the last flight, she was driven ahead on the run-in to win by half a length to give the trainer a double on the day.
A decent 3m novice chase followed the Welsh National. Venetia Williams’s Yalltari (2/1 fav) was going well in the lead along the back straight and Charlie Deutsch stole the first of several glances behind him on the far turn. He would have liked what he saw, as most of his opponents were hard at work. Sauntering along the home straight and jumping nicely, he was threatened by Bob Mahler approaching the last but that one’s blunder at the last cost him any chance. It’s unlikely he would have won, as Yalltari had plenty in hand and won by two and a half lengths.
The £280,000 purchase Ask For Glory (4/6 fav), an Irish point winner aged just four, led the bumper field along the back straight. Sam Twiston-Davies increased the pace turning for home and although Financier closed to within a length and a half three furlongs out, the leader quickened again. He steadily went further and further clear to win by 13 lengths, with Imperial Esprit coming in second. It completed doubles for Sam T-D and Paul Nicholls.