The rescheduled Welsh Grand National meeting came off without a hitch today, and the big race provided a great spectacle and a worthy winner.
The going was heavy, but not bottomless, and runners on this high quality card finished reasonably well. In both straights one hurdle and one fence were omitted because of the state of the ground. It was a chilly afternoon, with a little rain and some sunshine.
After the singing of the Welsh national anthem the 20 contestants lined up for the Coral Welsh Grand National. None of them could be dismissed out of hand. They went a good pace and turning into the straight for the last time the leading five had a handy lead over the rest, which included the thirteen-year-old Raz De Maree, the Irish-trained runner-up in last season’s race. Alfie Spinner, who is the same age, had taken the lead at the penultimate fence in the back straight and for a long time he looked like he would give the Kerry Lee stable another victory in this race. But between the last two fences Raz De Maree (16/1) ran on so well, head down, that he caught Alfie at the second last and ran on well for a six length victory. Gavin Cromwell is only the second Irish-based trainer since the war to win the race.
James Bowen, the winning rider, is only three years older than his mount and is the youngest jockey to win the race on the oldest horse.
Final Nudge plugged on for third. Vintage Clouds, backed into favouritism today, despite the ground being a concern, dropped back beaten with about a mile to go, only to run on again with great gusto to finish fourth. His owner Trevor Hemmings is sure to want him to run in the Aintree National.
The meeting got under way with a 2m4f maiden hurdle, won last season by the very promising The Worlds End. Just Don’t Ask made all the running until the long gap between the last two flights, when Diablo De Rouhet (33/1) went smoothly past. He popped over the final obstacle and didn’t need much prompting to go on by three lengths, confounding his form figures of PP765. The conspicuous blue and white colours carried by his jockey Mark Grant had been seen going well on the far turn. The Jo Hughes-trained gelding was kicked by one of his rivals at the start, but once he was checked by the vet he was allowed to take part.
A 3m novices chase came next. On the far turn Kim Bailey’s Another Venture (13/8 fav) was being bustled along by his jockey Mikey Hamill and nothing was going better than Socksy. However, the favourite responded to pressure, regained the lead at the third last and thanks to a good jump at the last held off a trio of pursuers by just over two lengths. Souriyan won the battle for second place.
Only five went to post for the £50,000 Future Champions Final Hurdle for four-year-olds, but it was a high class renewal and Nicky Henderson won it for the fourth time with We Have A Dream (8/11 fav). Daryl Jacob brought him to challenge Sussex Ranger between the last two hurdles, but hard to work hard to get past. They sprinted to the final flight, jumped it in unison, and duelled up the run-in. Only in the last 50 yards did the favourite come away from his plucky rival. He’s reinforced his position as second favourite for the Triumph Hurdle behind his stablemate Apple’s Shakira.
After the Welsh National a 3m handicap hurdle went to Emma Lavelle’s Flemcara (11/2), who completed a hat-trick under conditional Patrick Cowley. He waited until after the penultimate flight to ask his mount to catch the three in front, and did so with ease. However, once he took the lead he was inclined to idle and Shantou Bob pestered him all the way to the line, and was only half a length down passing the post.
It was turning into a day for the old-timers, for twenty minutes after we’d seen Buywise pip fourteen-year-old Pete The Feat in the veterans’ race at Sandown, Venetia Williams’ twelve-year-old Pressurize (4/1) added to his 2016 course and distance win in a £30,000 2m4f chase. There could be more to come from him, having only raced nine times, winning three. Charlie Deutsch was the successful jockey. Templehills made the running but had nothing left when the winner overhauled him halfway between the third and second last fences.
Finally, the bumper. Good Boy Bobby (11/10 fav) looked good winning here two months ago and even more so today. He overcame a stumble three furlongs out to cruise into the lead soon after and give Sam Twiston-Davies an effortless victory, riding for his father Nigel. Gwalia finished nine lengths away in second place.