In conditions that might have tested Pheidippides himself, last year's Grand National winner, Bindaree, again demonstrated his liking for marathon running. The nine-year-old, a 10-1 shot, bettered the 2-1 favourite Sir Rembrandt by just half a length after the pair had fought a dour battle up the long Chepstow straight.
At nearly three and three-quarter miles, the Celtic version of the Aintree showpiece is not as long as the real thing, but those involved in yesterday's rain-lashed war of attrition - winning rider Carl Llewellyn, Andrew Thornton on the runner-up and both horses - might beg to differ.
It was just as well the real Bindaree turned up, for the qualities that stood him in such stead on that memorable day were needed on this occasion, the 89th renewal of the Welsh National. It was the gelding's first victory since he outfought What's Up Boys up the Aintree run-in; between times he had been "enigmatic", a euphemism for unreliable. But lack of enthusiasm could be traced to discomfort, and after treatment for back trouble in the summer, Bindaree emerged with body and spirit restored.
"He's a lovely old boy and very, very brave," said his trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies. "He deserved that, as he really stuck his head out in the closing stages. He was never properly right last year after he had won at Aintree, but he has really come back to himself this season and has looked a much better horse at home. All thanks to our vet."
The finish was a rerun of the Rehearsal Chase at the track earlier in the month, but the result was in reverse order. On the former occasion Sir Rembrandt came in eight lengths ahead, but a combination of three more furlongs to cover, the stamina-sapping conditions and an 8lb pull in the weights were enough for a reversal of form.
A mistake by Sir Rembrandt five fences out, at the first obstacle in the straight, might have helped swing the difference, too. Up to that point the massive dark bay had jumped immaculately, belying his limited experience over fences. Yesterday's race was only his fifth over the larger obstacles, compared with 25 for Bindaree. At that point Sir Rembrandt, travelling strongly, seemed in command of the bunch of six who had drawn clear of their toiling rivals, but his blunder cost him lengths.
At the next obstacle the pair marginally in front, Kemal's Council and Akarus, fell independently but in such synchronisation that their heads-over-heels nose-dives appeared choreographed. Three out, Thornton conjured a bold leap from Sir Rembrandt, but Bindaree would not let go of his coat-tails, and by the last had clawed his way back on to level terms. From there it was heads down to the line, with the white-blazed one in front where it counted.
It was 22 lengths back to Hedgehunter, who looked a contender three out, with never-dangerous Take The Stand 10 lengths fourth and tailed-off Jurancon the only other finisher from the 15 who set out.
The victory gave Llewellyn special pleasure, as it made him the first Welshman to take his local National since Dick Francis on Crudwell in 1956. "It's brilliant," he said, "but don't forget Bindaree, as he really battled bravely for me and I couldn't be more pleased for him. He's a different horse this season, back to the one he was when he won the National."
Twiston-Davies, also Welsh, was winning the land of his fathers' most valuable prize (worth £46,400 yesterday) for the second time, having taken it with a future Aintree hero, Earth Summit, in 1997. The Gloucestershire-based handler plans to return to the big fences with Ray Mould's chestnut, who finished sixth in the latest running.
"As long as he comes out of this race in good style we will train him for another crack at the Grand National next April as he likes it there," he said. "He wasn't beaten far in last year's race considering the mistakes he made at Becher's on both circuits." Bindaree was quoted at 20-1 for an Aintree repeat after yesterday's effort.
The emphasis was on speed at Kempton, a flat, sharp track. In the two-mile Wayward Lad Novices' Chase, regarded as a formality for Thisthatandtother, it was Caracciola's ability to quicken at the head of the straight and flash over the last three fences with barely a break in his stride that enabled him and Mick Fitzgerald to turn over his 4-11 rival. The pair of exciting youngsters will meet again in the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham.
The senior two-mile champion, Moscow Flyer, notched his 12th success from 16 starts over fences with an impressive, almost routine, win in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown, jumping immaculately under Barry Geraghty. On the same card the Jonjo O'Neill-trained World Wide Web, one of six runners in JP McManus's colours, took the other Grade Two feature over three miles.
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