Mountainous delights Lee as he bids to hit the heights for third time
"All systems go" was the message from Kerry Lee as she put the finishing touches to Mountainous before his historic treble bid in Tuesday's Coral Welsh Grand National, a race in which man-of-the- moment Colin Tizzard looks set to play a big hand.
Tizzard's Hennessy Gold Cup hero Native River topped the weights among the acceptors at the six-day stage on Wednesday and, because no penalty can increase a horse's weight to above 11st 12lb in this race, he is able to race off the same mark as at Newbury, meaning he is effectively 8lb well in compared to his current handicap rating of 163. Had he not topped the weights he would have carried a penalty for his Hennessy win. Stablemates Viconte Du Noyer and Theatre Guide also stood their ground.
Coral make Native River their 5-1 market leader, with Hennessy runner-up Carole's Destrier next best at 8-1, while the firm also reported money for the Philip Hobbs-trained Onenightinvienna, who is a 10-1 chance.
Lee will also saddle last season's Haydock Grand National Trial winner Bishops Road, who is set to carry just a pound less than Native River.
But it will be the attempt of 11-year-old Mountainous to add to his victory last season and in 2013 – when under the care of Lee's father Richard - that is set to capture the public's imagination in the build-up to the Chepstow feature.
The sponsors trimmed Mountainous from 16-1 into 14s and Lee believes the defending champion is in shape to put up a bold attempt in his bid for the treble, despite failing to complete in either start since this race 11 months ago.
"We held back and held back and got to the point where if we didn’t run him then, we were never going to," said Lee, who has been frustrated by the dry autumn in her attempts to get a run into Mountainous.
"I went for Sandown over Chepstow because the race was a bit further. I know it might look slightly disappointing if you pick it apart but I was actually very happy with the run."
In January Mountainous became only the third dual winner of the Welsh National since the war, following Limonali and Bonanza Boy into the record books.
Lee said: "He hadn’t had a proper race since the last Welsh National. He was all wrong when he was pulled up at Haydock in February and didn’t run again. He was entitled to need it last time and I'm not at all bothered by that. He has really come on for it at home and it's all systems go."
The yard will be bidding to land a fourth Welsh National in six years – Le Beau Bai scored in 2011 – and Bishops Road boasts obvious credentials after making a big impression last season when bought out of Henry de Bromhead's stable.
Fourth on his comeback at Newcastle, the eight-year-old has also pleased Lee in the build-up to Tuesday's test.
"Being a pound behind Native River might not sound like great news but we’ve got to get on with it," said Lee. "I don’t think it will put us off having a crack. It's a race that has been his target so we’re very much looking forward to it. He's in the form of his life at home and I was very pleased with his Rehearsal Chase run.
"I'd prefer it to be soft but today it is soft, good to soft in places and we'd certainly run on that. Really it's the wetter the better for both Mountainous and Bishops Road."
Clerk of the course Keith Ottesen said: "We'll see what comes in on the storm [Barbara] rainwise, but there aren’t any large amounts of rainfall forecast for us. Monday and Tuesday are looking clear and fairly fine."
He added: "We’re delighted with the race, with Native River the topweight and an intended runner. I'm delighted how it has held up."