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RECORD CROWD SEE NATIVE RIVER CLAIM VICTORY AT CHEPSTOW

Tue, Dec 27, 2016

The spotlight of the racing world fell on Chepstow today, not only for its biggest race of the year but also because four of the races featured on the last ever Channel 4 Racing programme; after 32 years of their coverage ITV will take over in 2017.

A capacity crowd of 11,500 enjoyed fair weather, numerous attractions for all the family, and a memorable performance by the winner of the Coral Welsh Grand National.

Frost coming out of the ground had made the going more testing than of late, and it was soft, good to soft in places.

On Boxing Day Colin Tizzard dominated Kempton’s King George VI Chase when Thistlecrack slammed his popular stablemate Cue Card. Today his yard supplied the 11/4 favourite for the Welsh National in the shape of Native River, who won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury last month.

At 2.40, once Bryn Terfel and Rebecca Evans prefaced the race with a lusty rendition of the Welsh national anthem, the starter got the 20 runners away to a good level break. Native River was prominent early and Richard Johnson let him take the lead well before the end of the first circuit. He bowled along merrily and a big jump at the fourth last left him five lengths ahead, a margin that doubled by the next fence. The Irish-trained Raz De Maree was the only one able to emerge from the pack and he was flattered to finish within a length and three quarters as the winner was allowed to coast home. The third, Houblon Des Obeaux, was 15 lengths adrift. This was a terrific weight-carrying performance reminiscent of Carvills Hill, especially as Native River is still only a six-year-old. It makes him a major contender for Gold Cup honours, subject to whatever happens with Thistlecrack, or possibly even the Grand National.

The first race, a maiden hurdle over 2m4f, had gone to Tom George’s The Worlds End, who was well supported at 5/1. He’d won a bumper here last season and stepped up on that today. Paddy Brennan tracked the leader, Full Irish, into the straight, went to the front approaching the second last and ran out an 11 length winner.

Eight took part in a competitive 3m novices chase and most of them were still in with a chance as they came up the straight. Pobbles Bay (9/2) took a narrow lead after the third last and stayed on stoutly for Adam Wedge to finish four and a half lengths in front of Ibis Du Rheu. Local trainer Evan Williams has the Midlands National in March as a possible target for the winner.

Though Awaywiththegreys had won this 3m hurdle in each of the last three years, he never looked like collecting this time and did well to finish in fourth place. The favourite Rolling Dylan headed the field after the second last but Shantou Bob (10/1) was running on well from the rear, drew level after the last and took the lead with a hundred yards to go. Gavin Sheehan rode the neck winner for Warren Greatrex.

The Finale Hurdle, a Grade 1 event over 2m for three-year-olds, attracted a small but select field. Evan Williams holds his dual winner Evening Hush in high regard and she led until the fourth last, which she walked through. That allowed Defi Du Seuil (4/5 fav), with a 3-3 record over hurdles already, to take over and Richard Johnson quickly sent him into a clear lead. Despite jumping poorly in the closing stages he finished 13 lengths ahead. This Philip Hobbs-trained juvenile carries the J P McManus colours and if his jumping issues can be ironed out he will be a serious player at the Cheltenham Festival.

After the Welsh National Richard Johnson tried to make all the running in the 2m4f chase aboard Drumlee Sunset, but a mistake two out knocked the stuffing out of him. Charlie Deutsch waited until the last before driving Aso (6/5 fav) into the lead, and though he began to idle his rider was alive to the danger and made sure he kept going all the way to the line, prevailing by four lengths. Venetia Williams trained the winner, her fourth success in five years in this race.

The last race was a bumper, which went to the Scudamore brothers with Cadeyrn (7/1), trained by Michael and ridden by Tom. Not asked for an effort until three furlongs out, he made little progress initially. However, stamina appears to be his forte, as he kept trying, hit the front with half a furlong left, and was quickly on top. Absolute Power was a highly respectable two and a quarter length runner-up.

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Jim Beavis