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Track Talk With Phil Bell - 10th February


10 February 2021

At the moment, I guess we are all looking for positive news to cheer ourselves up.  

Fans of horse racing had a reason to smile last weekend when Native River, one of the most popular horses in training won at Sandown Park. The winner of the 2016 Coral Welsh Grand National jumped with his usual zest under former champion jockey Richard Johnson to defeat Bristol De Mai by nine and a half lengths. 

He’s a 16-1 chance for next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, a race he won in 2018. He’s an incredibly tough horse and has now won well over one million pounds in prize money. That is remarkable for a jump horse. 

The victory was also a welcome tonic for the yard of trainer Colin Tizzard which hasn’t been firing in its usual high number of winners. 

At Chepstow on Friday, the Coral Welsh Grand National connections of trainer Evan Williams, jockey Adam Wedge and owners William and Angela Rucker had another exciting winner when No Rematch made a very impressive debut over fences. 

The gelding had been off the track for almost a year but he certainly didn’t look ring rusty and won relatively easily. He looks a Welsh Grand National horse in the making. Secret Reprieve, who took the prize in January, could possibly run in the Grand National at Aintree.  

Another Welsh trainer in form is Pembrokeshire based Dai Rees - he had a double at Ffos Las last Thursday with Steel Native and Kiera Royale. Jockey Charlie Hammond rode them both. 

With fixtures across the UK being abandoned at a rate of knots this week because of the cold weather, we have taken all the precautions we can at Ffos Las to protect the track ahead of Thursday’s meeting. 

The running rails on both the chase and hurdle courses have been moved to provide fresh ground. We have also laid frost covers on the take offs and landing areas. The ground staff team started and finished in the dark at the weekend to get the work completed.  

There is a debate within racing at the moment about how late courses leave the decision on whether they can race when conditions are cold and frosty. The situation occurred at Ffos Las last month and it happened again last week at our sister course Sedgefield when several jockeys including James Bowen made the long journey north only to see the meeting abandoned at 12.30pm after four course inspections.  

Opinion on the issue does seem to be divided with some observers believing we should give racing every chance of going ahead and others thinking we should make an early call. I think that if we genuinely believe racing has a chance of proceeding we should, after taking careful consideration of the weather forecast, try our best to make it happen.    

Last year’s Cheltenham Festival produced a fantastic winner for Pembrokeshire trainer Rebecca Curtis when Lisnagar Oscar won the Stayers Hurdle at odds of 50-1 and this year’s race is still very much on the agenda. The horse has had a breathing operation since his last run at Newbury and will run in a handicap hurdle at Exeter before heading back to defend his crown. 

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