The Welsh Champion Hurdle, the feature at Ffos Las’s showpiece winter fixture today, is quite a grand title for a two-and-a-half-mile handicap, but the race has attracted Saphir Du Rheu, now a genuine World Hurdle contender following deeply impressive performances at Sandown and Kempton.
Rider Harry Derham will be able to claim 5lb again and every ounce will count on what will be extremely taxing going, but even so, a turnaround of 21lb for about nine lengths with Whisper, third to Saphir Du Rheu at Sandown in December, may well prove just too much for the top weight.
Whisper (2.05 Ffos Las), a real chasing type, was expected to be running over fences by now, but he is unbeaten in three starts at Ffos Las and is owned by the course chairman, Dai Walters, so it easy to see why that switch has been put on hold while he targets this prize.
The West Wales National, with several confirmed front-runners, looks like being especially attritional. Flying Award (2.40 Ffos Las) can come through late and pick up the pieces.
Oscar Whisky (2.25 Sandown), a past winner of the Welsh Champion Hurdle for Walters, is expected to complete his Cheltenham preparations by beating a smart staying prospect in Benvolio in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase.
Eastlake (1.50 Sandown) has taken quite a hike up the weights since winning this two-mile handicap chase last February, but his trainer Jonjo O’Neill gives the leg-up to 10lb claimer Tommie M O’Brien; this may well be the first win of many for the well-regarded young rider.
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Today’s cards P.19