The inappropriately named Notachance seized his opportunity to advance Grand National claims with his latest success in the Warwick Classic on Saturday, but Aintree is not on the agenda. The joint favourite, with third-placed Le Breuil, has given his supporters a run for their money in all his chases and trainer Alan King hopes it will prove the same again in the Coral Scottish Grand National in April. King is not a fan of the Aintree version and neither is joint owner Tim Leadbeater, whose West End Rocker had a bad experience when brought down at Becher’s ten years ago. Instead Scotsman King will be hoping to add a second ‘home’ win at Ayr after Godsmejudge’s success in 2013. Tom Cannon had Notachance slipstreaming the strong pace set by last year’s runner-up Captain Chaos, admitting he hit the front earlier than he wanted before the home turn at the third-last before holding off outsider Achilles by half a length. In contrast to the winner the placed pair, Achille and Le Breuil, still have one eye on Aintree, although they are likely to clash for that honour in the Grand National Trial at Haydock on February 20. Achille has the sort of fairytale associated with many National winners, having been written off with injury but persevered with during a 427-day absence. The 11-year-old grey is also owned by Vida Bingham and trained by Venetia Williams, responsible for 100-1 National winner Mon Mome 12 years ago. Trainer Ben Pauling is desperate to get Le Breuil up the few pounds needed to guarantee a run at Aintree and it was easy to see why, as the former winner of Cheltenham’s NH Chase again showed anything less than four miles just is not far enough. Tom Lacey enjoys this Warwick meeting, having won the Classic with Kimberlite Candy last year, and landed his first Grade 2 success when Adrimel made all under Richard Johnson to win the Leamington Hurdle. Lacey is preparing Kimberlite Candy for the Grand National, for which he was among the favourites before it was cancelled last year. The Kilbray Chase at Ascot on 20 February is the only time the nine-year-old will be seen before the big day. Eileendrover added to her reputation and good Flat pedigree when seeing off Irish challenger Grangee in third with an impressive burst of speed in the Market Rasen bumper, which featured four other unbeaten runners. Trainer Pam Sly, who owns and bred the four-year-old with her son Michael, has fended off offers as she did with her 1,000 Guineas winner Speciosa. That remained their stance with the trainer also keen to bypass the Cheltenham champion bumper, looking to a possible campaign on the Flat next summer.
There will be no hiding place in Saturday’s feature Warwick Classic even though the £50,000 handicap chase is a marathon set to be run on heavy ground. That is because recent Cheltenham winner Storm Control and last year’s runner-up Captain Chaos like nothing more than haring off and, in the case of Storm Control, proving uncatchable since sent over three miles or more this winter. Trainer Kerry Lee is stepping up Storm Control nearly another half a mile to assess if he could develop into a Randox Health Grand National contender, who could follow the lead of One For Arthur, who won the Warwick race before Aintree success in 2017. This week’s heavy rain is more of a concern to Lee, who trains on the Herefordshire/Wales border and has continued the family tradition of producing useful chasers since taking over from her father Richard six seasons ago. “I’d like to run him to get a handle on his trip and there’s no reason not to think he would get the trip but we need to find out if he was to go to Aintree,” said Lee, who is one short of 100 career winners and won the Warwick Classic with her white knight Russe Blanc five years ago. Storm Control showed in a good piece of work on Monday that he was ready to follow up his memorable Cheltenham Grade 3 chase success last month. That Saturday success was notable for a suspenseful finish as Storm Control started to pull himself up when left clear at the last. If the ground is too testing, Lee has plenty of alternatives, naming the Skybet Chase at Doncaster, the Denman Chase of National Trial at Haydock as an alternative testing ground. Captain Chaos has been backed into favouritism during the week to go one better than a year ago. Eagle-eyed punters have picked up on Dan Skelton putting blinkers back on the 10-year-old, who is a creature of habit in showing little enthusiasm in his early races each season until woken up by headgear. Skelton confirmed: “He always takes a few runs to get going and has a nice weight.” Market Rasen holds an 8am inspection ahead of Saturday’s meeting because of a wintry weather forecast which adds to the angst of Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins as he tests the water for Irish runners crossing new customs borders since Brexit. Mullins won the bumper on the card last year and returns with Grangee in the hottest race of the day, featuring four other unbeaten contenders including the Pam Sly-trained Eileendover, who was shading favouritism on Friday. Lingfield (Monday) and Newcastle (Wednesday) lost their turf jumping fixtures next week to the wet weather but now hold all-weather cards with bumpers for jumpers.
The Coral Welsh National went to a Welsh-trained winner for the second year in succession when the Evan Williams-trained 5-2 favourite, Secret Reprieve, landed the Chepstow marathon on Saturday 12 months after Potters Corner. As emotional as the trainer was, however, he dedicated the smooth three-length win to the seven-year-old’s jockey, Adam Wedge who, until that point had endured an awful afternoon - the sporting equivalent of falling under two traction engines and being squashed into the tarmac. He owed as much to the racecourse doctor as his own iron resolution to keep riding after heavy falls in the second and third races. Wedge, 31, has ridden so long in South Wales that he is now an adopted Welshman – “Everyone thinks I’m Welsh so I might as well be” he said - but he is originally from Halesowen, presumably from the old iron works which made the place famous for nails. Although he walked away from his first fall, in the colours he would later carry to victory in the Welsh National, he was very much in the walking wounded category. “It was lucky I had a ride in the next,” explained the jockey who missed the winning ride on Williams’s Coole Cody in the Paddy Power Chase in November through injury and had no desire to miss another big payday. “I didn’t get a chance to stiffen up. After the first fall I was questioning myself about whether I should be riding. It’s madness. It’s very up and down but we do it because we love it.” With his shoulder heavily strapped up, things hardly looked much better when his ride in the fourth race seemed to run away with him in front. But he could not have had a smoother passage than the one he had on Secret Reprieve throughout the three and three quarter mile trip – even when his girth broke going to the last and only an over-girth kept his saddle in place, it did not disturb their rhythm.
The vast majority of horses to have won the Coral Welsh National in testing conditions carried a low weight – hence the unrelenting support for Saturday’s favourite Secret Reprieve – but, every now and again, good ones win it with more, and Lord Du Mesnil fits that bill. Chepstow must pass an 8am inspection, and under the covers the ground is bound to be pretty horrible, but those are conditions in which Richard Hobson’s eight-year-old thrives, getting into a relentless rhythm in or near the front. Last season, he won three novice chases in the heavy and soft before finishing a close second to Smooth Stepper in the Haydock National Trial and 2¼ lengths behind Ravenhill in the National Hunt Chase. Native River, it should be noted, was runner-up in the same race before winning the 2016 Welsh National and 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Lord Du Mesnil may not be in that class, but he is a good horse and his regular rider Paul O’Brien’s 3lb claim takes his weight down to a manageable 11st 2lb. “He carries weight all right,” said Hobson. “He carries me every day!” The Grand National is his long-term plan, which is why he ran in the Grand Sefton at Aintree last time. That was a mile too short for him and he was rushed off his feet, but there was method in Hobson’s plan; he did not want to “bottom” him before the Welsh National. “He’s a very good horse,” added the Stow-on-the-Wold trainer. “He’s a bit quirky, he likes to dictate up front. He has the pace to go with Yala Enki and there might be a couple of others wanting to make it, but if he gets into a nice rhythm, with his action in those conditions horses can’t live with him. I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t in the vanguard early. He’s in great order.” Last year, Truckers Tavern, Yala Enki, Prime Venture and The Two Amigos all chased Potters Corner home and they will all get similar conditions on race day, while Secret Reprieve, with just a 4lb penalty for his trial win, has to be respected. Nassalam has won his two starts at Fontwell since joining Gary Moore from France by an aggregate of more than 100 lengths. He may not have beaten much, but nevertheless he looks an exciting four-year-old and should be hard to beat in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle, one of the starter courses for the Welsh National. McFabulous did not quite get home in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury behind Thyme Hill and Paisley Park so the trip in the rescheduled Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton, proving the course passes its 8am inspection, should suit him ideally.