Anyone who wants to know what it must feel like to race across 22 fences and nearly four miles of Monmouthshire mud would get a pretty good idea simply by ploughing through the formbook in search of the big-race winner at Chepstow today. The Coral Welsh National looks grimly competitive, with a number of progressive staying chasers, such as Gungadu and Miko De Beauchene, meeting the toughest test of their careers to date against hardened campaigners like Sir Rembrandt (2.05, next best).
The latter finished 22 lengths in front of the next home no less a horse than Hedgehunter when a close second in this race four years ago. Having been through the wilderness since, he seems rejuvenated since joining Victor Dartnall's yard and runs off a 1lb lower mark today. Even though he finished well beaten, he again showed signs of renewal in trying to keep tabs on Denman at Newbury last month, finding no extra only after slipping on the home bend. With his new trainer in such good form, the horse that once got within half a length of Best Mate in a Cheltenham Gold Cup surely merits perseverance at 25-1.
Another horse with runs on the board round here is Halcon Genelardais, who won the race last year off a 9lb lower mark. He has again warmed up with a pleasing performance over hurdles, and proven "trackcraft" counts for a good deal over this undulating course. Homer Wells also commands respect, having been aimed here for some months by his outstanding trainer. It seems safe to expect radical improvement for his comeback run.
David Pipe's father used to farm this race, and both Over The Creek and Not Left Yet remain progressive. Regardless, with his stable in such great heart, Pipe can win the Coral Future Champions Hurdle through ASHKAZAR (nap 2.40). Useful on the Flat in France, he looked an exceptional recruit to hurdling at Wincanton and can go to the top of the juvenile class here. BBC2 also has cameras at Kempton, where Voy Por Ustedes (2.25) has a solid chance of repeating his success last year in the Stan James Desert Orchid Chase. He ran into an emerging star in Twist Magic at Sandown last time and his principal rival at the weights, Ashley Brook, lacked gusto in the same race. But the best card of the day is perhaps at Leopardstown, where In Compliance makes only his second appearance since beating War Of Attrition a year ago and his first since the Punchestown Festival against the prolific Nickname in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase. Whether it was lack of fitness or stamina that made him finish tamely when tried over three miles at Punchestown is hard to say, but he drops right back in distance today.
If on his game, this elusive talent will top the bill, but the most interesting race is the big novices' hurdle, which brings together Cork All Star and Aranleigh, first and third in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last season. Cork All Star (2.00) threw away victory with an inexperienced jump over the final hurdle at Fairyhouse last time, but the better ground should get him back on the road to the Festival.
A return to Cheltenham is by no means at the top of the agenda for Sky's The Limit, who yesterday was made to fight for the Durkan New Homes Novices' Chase on the opening day of the meeting, despite the fall of Perce Rock. Forced into a photo by Lenrey, Sky's The Limit persuaded his trainer that two miles is an inadequate test. But nor does Eddie O'Grady want to run him over three miles yet, so his priority may be the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on 23 March. The big juvenile hurdle meanwhile fell to Won In The Dark, at €1,800 (1,300) a real feather in the cap of his trainer, Sabrina Harty.
NB: Sir Rembrandt
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