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Friday 7 January 2011

Welsh National thoughts

There are a couple of jump meetings at Bangor and Fontwell.

The prospect of very heavy going at Bangor does not fill me with glee, so I’m not assessing the racing there. What is interesting tho’ is that Nicky Henderson has sent a good number of representatives and his stable jockey Barry Geraghty. Henderson is definitely “old school”, and he knows that to get the best performances at the Festival in March – just over 2 months away now – horses need a run between the 1st Jan and 14th Feb to be at their peak come the test in March.

At Fontwell, it is also very soft (heavy in places) going, and with heavy rain forecast this morning, there is another inspection there at 11am this morning. As such, I am going to give that meeting a miss as well.

If racing does go ahead, it will be interesting to see how Quantitativeeasing gets on for Nicky Henderson in the novice chase. Only 4 go to post for that, including that old rogue that is Straw Bear, still a novice chaser at 10yo. Fontwell is Gifford’s home track, and Straw Bear is having his 1st run in over a year (last couple were over hurdles). I’ve a feeling in my bones that these are the sort of conditions that could help Straw Bear break his chasing “duck”.
I was also going to make a selection in the 3m2f handicap chase (class 4) at 2:30. One from the horse alert list entered – ABSOLUTE SHAMBLES. Last time he ran it was on unsuitable good-to-firm going, but the soft/heavy going will be more suitable for him today. Admittedly, he is a course winner at Fontwell on good-to-firm going, but he left that form well behind when winning over 3-mile at Huntingdon on good-to-soft in December 2009. That was a useful field for the grade that he beat that day, and ABSOLUTE SHAMBLES stayed on strong to take the race. Being a half-brother to Longshanks (who was 7th in the National won by Silver Birch) this 3m2f trip should not trouble him. He also seems fairly treated on OR92, as his full sister Iron Maid won off OR115 as a hurdler, and Longshanks won off OR130 (on heavy) as a chaser, so worsening ground should also not be a negative factor. So, he has the potential to leave this rating far behind, the only spanner in the works being that he’s had a few training problems this season (hence not having run since September) and trainer Chris Gordon thinks he may benefit from the run.

So, no selections today.

I wrote earlier in the week about Binocular’s chances in the Champion Hurdle. Yesterday, his trainer Nicky Henderson stated the horse would run another couple of times before defending his crown – and that means that (unlike some other intended runners) he will be primed on the race-track rather than on the gallops. No current trainer has sent out more Festival winners than Nicky Henderson, and I think he knows what he is doing. As I wrote on Wednesday; do not ignore Binocular – he is now trading at longer odds than he did after winning the last renewal and yet he’s done nothing wrong in the meantime. He’s been there, done it and has the T-shirt; he demands respect.

The rescheduled Welsh National takes place at Chepstow tomorrow (Saturday) and the prospect of heavy rain today and tomorrow mean that (should the race go ahead) it will be an extreme stamina test, and not one for the faint-hearted. Last year’s runner-up SILVER BY NATURE did not run well at all LTO in the Hennessey. A mistake at the 1st and again at the 4th meant he was toiling at the rear early-on and this “slugger” needs heavy going and an extreme stamina test to slow the pace down so that he can come into his own once they’ve run 20f+. Conditions will be near perfect for him at Chepstow, but having to carry 11st12lb wont. They say weight does not stop a good horse and SILVER BY NATURE is one of the very few horses to beat the top-class Our Vic on soft/heavy going. He has to be an each-way selection. Venetia Williams Summery Justice is also very interesting having had just 3 chase runs (won twice), but he’s too short in the betting at 10/1 for me. Another horse that always runs a genuine race and should really have won more often is EXMOOR RANGER. I reckon he’d have gone close in the William Hill Handicap at the Festival last March but for being brought-down early. At 20/1 and with a respectable 11st 1lb to carry, this strong traveller will give you a good run for your money. With going this testing, it will be very difficult to get back into the race from off the pace – expect many to be pulled-up after halfway – and those racing “in the van” may hold the advantage.

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