» Chepstow Trials

Chepstow Trials

By Rory King

I have always been a fan of ante post betting. The possibility of backing a horse at a big price for a big race who develops into a leading contender come the day of the race was something that really triggered my interest in this sport. Growing up in the west country, not far from the Welsh border, meant that Chepstow over Christmas for the Welsh National was an annual highlight for my father and I (and very occasionally my sister if conditions were deemed bearable), and so the Chepstow marathon has always been of particular interest to me from an ante post point of view.

I have already had a bet for this year’s race (Hey Big Spender if you’re interested, and yes I know he’s got 11st 7lb to carry), but I was struck over the weekend by how many horses put themselves in contention for a crack at the race, and not just this year’s race either. There were performances up and down Britain that screamed Welsh National for me.

First up, well actually not first up because by the time the 3.40 at Sandown had been run several others had enhanced their claims, but first into my little black book entitled ‘Welsh National Horses’ went Any Currency. Martin Keighley’s gelding was having his first run for just over a year in the London National at Sandown, his first run since finishing second to Midnight Chase in the Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting last season. Given that the winner of that race went on to win again at the next Cheltenham meeting off 9lb higher before finishing fifth in the Gold Cup, and that the horse who finished behind Any Currency in third, Junior, went on to win the Kim Muir by 24 lengths, Any Currency looks quite well handicapped now off 133.

He was well backed on Saturday but the steady gallop didn’t play to his strengths. His jumping was a little rusty too, he was just about the first horse off the bridle, but he stayed on really strongly, he was still only fifth jumping the last but managed to get up for third on the line. He is a thorough stayer, a greater test of stamina will suit him, but he was also classy enough to finish a close up fourth to Poker De Sivola in the 2010 National Hunt Chase on good ground. The plan even before Saturday had been to head to Chepstow and this run should put him spot on for Christmas time. He will be 2lb out of the handicap if Neptune Collonges takes his chance, but he could have quite a lot of improvement to come with the emphasis firmly on stamina. He ran well in two hurdle runs at the track, and course form is always a big plus at Chepstow. He is only eight, seven and eight-year-olds have a good record in the race, and he can be backed at 25/1.

Next up is a horse who has been in the pages of the book before. Le Beau Bai seems to have been around for years but is still only eight, and having looked to have lost his form completely on his first two runs of the season, he showed encouragement back over hurdles at Newbury last time out with blinkers reapplied for the first time since May 2008, and they duly sharpened him up no end over fences again on Saturday. He showed all of his old verve in winning for the first time since February 2010, and the first time over fences since he won this same race two seasons ago. He went on to run in the Welsh National that year under a penalty, starting the 4/1 favourite and finishing third to Dream Alliance, and he looks set to go back again this year, with the penalty giving him a chance of getting into the race. He ran off 143 with the penalty two years ago, but will race off just 131 this time round, although admittedly that will leave him 4lb out of the handicap so it will effectively be 135.

He thrives in the sort of conditions that normally prevail for the Welsh National – he has won twice and been placed twice from six runs at the course and he has won four times and been placed a further four times from 11 runs on heavy ground. Conditions were heavy at Chepstow on Saturday and they are unlikely to change much between now and Christmas. It is not hard to envisage him running another big one in the race if he gets in.

Elsewhere, Smoking Aces put up a good performance to win the three-mile-five-furlong handicap chase at Fairyhouse on Sunday in first-time blinkers, and he could be the sort for next year’s renewal, while two novice chasers were victorious over the weekend with efforts that put them firmly at the top of the 2012 renewal shortlist in my book.

Teaforthree had impressed at Cheltenham last time out when narrowly going down to Join Together, and finishing in front of Restless Harry, Viking Blond and Saint Are, and he duly built on that when winning at Chepstow on Saturday. He jumped well out in front, put his rivals under pressure with an injection of pace at the top of the home straight, and stayed on well to beat Restless Harry by further than he had at Cheltenham. That’s the third time he has run well at the track, and he was even entered for this year’s Welsh National but hadn’t run enough times over fences to qualify at the time of the weights being framed. Connections may have to wait 12 months, but they could have a live one on their hands for next year’s race.

Right, I’m off to start looking for prices for the 2012 renewal.

By Rory King