At the best of times, backing the winner of the Coral Welsh National can be an uncomfortable imperative for those wondering how they are supposed to pay for the indulgences of Christmas. And these, as everybody knows, are not the best of times.
In the circumstances, no doubt, one should be wary of making too bold a leap of faith. One should acknowledge the presence of that teak race specialist, Halcon Genelardais, and dangerously handicapped rivals such as Mon Mome. One should dread the random misfortunes inevitable when 20 horses jump 22 fences over the best part of four miles of muddy Monmouthshire. In this particular instance, moreover, one should certainly not be led astray by the pleasing sentimental coherence offered by a horse trained by a Welshman, in the Vale of Glamorgan – in a race overdue a home winner, a first since 1965 in fact, at a time of remarkable prosperity in the Welsh sport. Suitably chastened, one would tiptoe meekly into the minefield.
But to the devil with all that. For if High Chimes (below) does not run a mighty race today, then Evan Williams is a Chinaman. At 9-1, in fact, it is a case of ding dong merrily.
True, those persuaded to back this horse for his comeback race, at Newbury last month, will be perfectly within their rights to look elsewhere after he managed no better than sixth. But credulity to some will be credibility to others. For it is not hard to revisit his performance as a perfect rehearsal for this target – one, after all, that might very well have concentrated the mind of his gifted young trainer.
The way he travelled through the race, off a 14lb higher mark, permitted little doubt that High Chimes retains scope for further progress after his decisive success at the Cheltenham Festival. That had been only his eighth start under Rules, after all, and Williams had very much let him grope his way towards that breakthrough. Admittedly it was disconcerting to see High Chimes lose his place as the screw was turned at Newbury, but he stayed on powerfully in the straight despite being repeatedly switched round horses. Nor was he given a hard race once the cause was lost – quite rightly – and overall it must be allowed that he had laid solid foundations for the rest of his season.
If all remains well with HIGH CHIMES (nap 2.05), it seems impossible to envisage him failing to pick up a good prize somewhere soon, and off 10st 2lb he may not get a better chance than today. The biggest caveat is that conditions might well blunt the class of a horse who travels unusually well for a staying chaser, with cold, dry weather – cold enough, indeed, to merit an inspection this morning – putting extra gravity into going officially described as soft.
Unmistakably this is an important day for Williams, who also saddles three in the big juvenile hurdle. They face a formidable rival in Walkon, who made an honourable attempt to concede 7lb to the JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite at Newbury 10 days ago, but he has not had much time to recover from that generous effort. Simarian (2.40) has looked a rather less fluent hurdler so far, but he has improved for a test of stamina and could be best suited by the demands of this race.
There are other interesting juvenile heats at Wetherby, where Sacrilege (1.55) might be better suited by the course than Art Exhibition, and Kempton, where Starluck (next best 1.05) can confirm himself one of the season's sharpest juveniles after impressing on similar circuits at Fakenham and Huntingdon.
Williams, meanwhile, is also represented in a good race on the same card, but Deep Purple has had only eight days' rest since winning at Ascot and meets an impressive course-and-distance winner in Oumeyade (1.40).
The biggest prize offered in Sunbury today is the Desert Orchid Chase, where Petit Robin remains a potential banana-skin after getting nowhere near his limits against lesser rivals at Newbury last month. But for now Twist Magic (3.15) sets the standard after showing signs of revival on his reappearance behind Master Minded.
The Christmas meeting at Leopardstown continues with an opportunity for Hurricane Fly to justify the billing of the Paddy Power Future Champion Novices' Hurdle, while tomorrow the Lexus Chase features the reappearance of Neptune Collonges, the horse who completed that famous 1-2-3 for Paul Nicholls in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Nap: High Chimes (Chepstow 2.05)
NB: Starluck (Kempton 1.05)