'Tour' can foil Griffin's bold Chepstow raid
Twiston-Davies' course winner ticks boxes for Welsh National
Portrait King is today charged with doubling the tally of Irish-trained Coral Welsh National winners.
After some much needed drying, officials are optimistic that the Chepstow feature will beat the elements.
Should it and this year's edition then go ahead as planned next Christmas, it will be the third time since 2011 that the £120,000 handicap is held twice in a year.
That reality is reflective of the conditions that runners in the race face almost without fail. The ground is invariably borderline raceable at the Welsh track in the depth of winter, so identifying a horse that will relish such a gruelling task is the priority.
Barry Geraghty's mount Upswing has its chance but is short enough in the betting. Former winners Emperor's Choice and Mountainous are no forlorn hopes, while Jonathan Burke, who flies in to partner three for Rebecca Curtis, has a life on the Red Devil Lads.
Portrait King, however, is one of two that have massive appeal at their respective odds. Pat and James Griffin's 11-year-old was not an intended starter here on December 27 due to the storm at home and the possibility of the card being lost.
As such, the rescheduling has worked out well for his connections, as he is tailor-made for this. Portrait King won the 2012 Grand National trial at Punchestown, before following up in the Eider off a mark of 131.
The venerable grey got back to winning ways in the Conyngham Cup at Punchestown a year ago, and would have been a big player had he stood up in last month's Becher Chase. Over three-and-a-quarter miles, Portrait King was motoring into it when he collided with another runner two-out and was knocked down. He had real momentum at the time and would have gone very close.
This afternoon, he is in off the same mark of 132 for 10st 6lb. The three-furlong longer trip, deep ground and gruelling track will suit him ideally, so he looks overpriced at up to 33/1. As such, Portrait King is a cracking each-way option under Derek Fox, the chief concern being that he might just be vulnerable to something a little less exposed.
That horse could be Tour Des Champs. Nigel Twiston-Davies' nine-year-old is quite lightly raced for his age, this being his 17th chase start. Successful in the trial for this in bottomless ground here on December 5, the Robin Des Champs gelding is a consistent sort that loves a proper grind and has scope to improve.
He simply never ran his race in this off a rating of 137 in 2014, when he was out of form going into the race. That clearly isn't the case this time, yet Tour Des Champs is still seven pounds lower than 12 months ago and is a pound well in on future figures.
That is all significant, and, with Jamie Bargary up again, he will carry just 9st 13lb. At odds of up to 14/1, then, he has plenty appeal.
The rest of the day is difficult. If Chepstow survives, Gevrey Chambertin is worth a look in the handicap hurdle, or alternatively as an each-way hope in Kempton's Lanzarote Hurdle.
Still, Harry Fry's Bivouac will be hard to beat in that. Noel Fehily's mount looked smart at Huntingdon and is progressive.
With the Gold Cup in mind, most Irish racing fans will be eager to see Don Cossack secure back-to-back editions of the Kinloch Brae Chase with a bit of style on Thursday.
Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old is the stand-out candidate in the Thurles Grade Two and should live up to his billing.
That said, it has the potential to be an interesting race, even if it does prove one-sided.
Gigginstown Stud’s other five entries include Sir Des Champs, which won so well at the track on his comeback only to ‘bounce’ in the Lexus Chase.
Also among the Gigginstown delegation is Wounded Warrior.
Noel Meade’s Shantou gelding was an extremely smart novice, getting placed in Grade Ones at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
He has yet to be seen this term, but could have a lucrative spring ahead if he comes to hand.
Others that would add to the intrigue are Jerry Cosgrave’s course specialist Mount Colah and Henry de Bromhead’s Smashing, both of which will relish the guaranteed deep ground. Here’s hoping plenty of them turn up.