Elegant Escape chasing a slice of Welsh Grand National history at Chepstow
Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade 3) | 3m6½f | 4yo+ | ITV4/Sky
Elegant Escape, described as being "just a gear short" of a genuine Cheltenham Gold Cup contender by Colin Tizzard, will need to be every bit as good his trainer believes if he is to become a rare back-to-back winner of the stamina-sapping Coral Welsh Grand National.
Only Bonanza Boy has won the Welsh National – first run in 1895 – in consecutive years, completing the double in 1989 with a wide-margin win for Martin Pipe and Peter Scudamore, and only two horses have carried top weight to success since the second of his victories.
The magnificent Carvill's Hill ran away with the spoils for Pipe and Scudamore in 1991 from the top of the weights, while future Gold Cup winner Native River, a stablemate of Elegant Escape, gave weight to all his rivals in 2016.
"The ground and the weight could stop a steam engine and he has it all to do, but he's favourite and everyone else must think he's good enough," said Tizzard about the challenge Elegant Escape faces on a surface sure to be testing.
"I know Native River went on to be a Gold Cup horse but carrying top weight to win can be done. He's a big, strong horse and I'd much rather be top weight than bottom weight in any handicap.
"He's just short of a gear in the very top races so this is his ideal race and he ticks all the boxes. Robbie Power is over and our first choice nowadays, and takes the ride."
Stablemate West Approach will be having his fifth run of the season, having already finished first, second and third in big handicaps at Cheltenham this term, and Tizzard said: "We've raced him plenty but with the ground coming up soft we thought why not have a go? If he can lob away at the back it might just suit him."
Nicholls unleashes strong hand
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who won the race as a rider with Playschool in 1987 before saddling Silver Birch and L'Aventure to win back-to-back runnings in 2004 and 2005, holds a strong hand with Truckers Lodge and Yala Enki.
"Yala Enki ran very well in the race last season and is now 8lb better off with Elegant Escape, which is a lot, but I don't think he has any leeway with his handicap mark," said Nicholls.
"He was behind where I wanted him to be so I ran him in the Ladbrokes Trophy, where he ran a nice race, and he will hopefully have come forward for that."
Nicholls added: "I've been training Truckers Lodge for this race for a while. He won nicely at Chepstow last time, he loves the mud and he has a nice light weight. You have to question whether he has enough experience but he's an improving young horse and has a great chance."
Now is the time for McGinty
Now McGinty has been a leading fancy for this race ever since he was narrowly touched off by Santini on his seasonal reappearance last month and, with a course record of finishing first, second and third on three previous runs at Chepstow, it certainly looks like the right race.
Trainer Stuart Edmunds received another boost when regular rider Tom O'Brien was able to renew his association with the eight-year-old, having been in line to ride last year's winner Elegant Escape before Robbie Power stepped in.
"I couldn't be happier with him and everything about the race suits him," said an upbeat Edmunds. "There are no excuses and he's beaten De Rasher Counter around Chepstow over fences, which isn't bad form.
"Ever since he won his novice chase there I thought he was tailor-made for the Welsh National and we just need a clear run now. It couldn't be too testing and, as long as it's on, we're happy."
What they say
Christian Williams, trainer of Potters Corner
After the Midlands National it was always the plan for him to have his next run over fences in this. He was a bit unlucky in his first two runs over hurdles this season but the ground came right at Chepstow last time. He ticks a lot of boxes, the only negative is that he may be a little bit exposed but the race should suit him.
Nicky Martin, trainer of The Two Amigos
He relishes heavy ground so conditions should be perfect for him. He's also won over the trip, which not many have. He's in seriously good order – he schooled on Christmas Eve and was absolutely flying.
Evan Williams, trainer of Pobbles Bay, Prime Venture & Virginia Chick
It's a tremendously competitive race and plenty in there have got a great chance. I couldn't tell you which of mine has the best chance but they've all got good racing weights.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Arthur's Gift
It's not the strongest Welsh National and the conditions will suit him quite well so we're hoping he can run well.
Dan Skelton, trainer of Captain Chaos
We’ve been toying with going up to an extreme trip with him for a while and this looks the right opportunity, plus he only has 10st on his back.
David Pipe, trainer of Rathlin Rose
He has got a nice low weight and will love the soft ground. He ran well in the race a couple of years ago and we're hoping for the best.
A little bit extra
One of the most challenging tests of the jumps season, the Coral Welsh Grand National will be even more demanding on Friday with an extra furlong added to the historic Chepstow handicap.
The move, which has been made to improve the safety of runners by lengthening the run to the first bend, will also mean an extra fence will be jumped, with 23 obstacles now to negotiate.
The starting point has been moved from just before the winning post to before the last fence in the home straight, with the distance raised to 3m6f 130yd (from 3m5f 110yd).
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