Wednesday 7 December 2016

Lee eager to make Welsh National a family affair

Tom Peacock

Published 05/01/2016 | 02:30

Mountainous and Paul Moloney (far right) jump the last fence on the way to winning the 2013 Welsh Grand National – the horse returns to Chepstow on Saturdaycasts. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Mountainous and Paul Moloney (far right) jump the last fence on the way to winning the 2013 Welsh Grand National – the horse returns to Chepstow on Saturdaycasts. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

A transition which has appeared seamless so far could gain greater prominence this weekend should two members of the Lee family win the Coral Welsh National with the same horse.

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Chepstow's annual highlight, postponed last month, is not for the faint-hearted, but it clearly suits Mountainous, which won it by a head two years ago. Trainer Richard Lee handed over the reins to his daughter Kerry last summer and she could yet also sneak outsiders Russe Blanc and Goodtoknow into Saturday's showpiece, providing a reasonably positive weather forecast materialises.

Mountainous, Lee's No 1 contender, has slipped down in the weights and has looked on the verge of a return to form.

"He was never quite right last season, but he has done well for a nice summer of grass," she explained. "I really couldn't be happier with his preparation. He loves three miles and five furlongs and he loves heavy ground."

Sandwiched between the borders of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Powys, Bell House stables in Byton are a long way from, well, anywhere, and Lee spent 18 hours of last weekend driving.

With 11 winners on the board, she is already roughly halfway towards the yard's usual total for the season, but is keen not to discredit the efforts of her father, a more old-fashioned practitioner but one who struck at Cheltenham and Aintree and often had a waiting list for his services.

"I've had a good start but there's no saying Dad wouldn't have had this amount of winners or more," she said.

Lee, who studied computer sciences and worked for many years behind the scenes at Channel 4 Racing, describes her approach as more "systematic and methodical", making detailed plans.

"It's very much a 'Team Lee at the races' effort," she said. "Mum and Dad are a huge part of a family business. I was always a big part of their business and now it's a slight shift."

Chepstow clerk of the course Keith Ottesen is "more than hopeful" the race will go ahead at the second attempt on Saturday. The official going at the Monmouthshire circuit remains heavy, but forecasts for the coming days are giving Ottesen reason to be optimistic.

He said: "I don't want to speak too soon, but the forecast, at the moment, isn't looking too bad."

Emperor's Choice, trained by Venetia Williams, is another past winner to feature among 33 horses confirmed at the five-day stage.

Three of the ante-post market leaders - Jonjo O'Neill's Upswing, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Cogry and Alan King's Midnight Prayer - have stood their ground.

Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis has three possible runners in Bob Ford, Red Devil Lads and Audacious Plan.

Dermot McLoughlin's veteran Vics Canvas is one of three potential Irish challengers along with the Mouse Morris-trained Folsom Blue and Patrick Griffin's Portrait King.

McLoughlin is undecided on whether to let Vics Canvas make the journey. The 13-year-old was last seen finishing a fine fifth over the Grand National fences in Aintree's Becher Chase.

McLoughlin said: "I'm not 100pc sure whether he'll go for the Welsh National yet. I still have to talk to his owners.

"He's in great form and he came out of Aintree very well. We are just limited as to where he can go as he is rated 145."

Telegraph.co.uk

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