Lee joy at Le Beau's Welsh fairytale
Richard Lee was proud to be an honorary Welshman for the day when he sent out dour stayer Le Beau Bai to win a thrilling home-straight duel with Giles Cross and snatch victory in the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow.
This was the biggest day of the racing year in Wales, and casual punters might have been excused for looking to familiar local names such as Peter Bowen, Evan Williams or Tim Vaughan to carry their money.
But deserved honours went to Lee, who trains at Bell House, Byton, which is two miles inside the Herefordshire border with Wales. By the reckoning of most, that is close enough to claim a moral victory for Wales, especially when the yard possesses a Welsh postcode.
"This is a race I've always wanted to win," Lee declared. "We train on the Welsh borders, and to come here and win the Welsh National is a fairytale."
Officially, the last Welsh-trained winner was Norther in 1965, though Dream Alliance, which triumphed in 2009, was owned by the Alliance Partnership, which boasted a membership with roots firmly in Wales.
So often, this test over three miles, five and a half furlongs, becomes an impossible slog and when the going was posted as 'heavy' many feared the worst for the race as a spectacle. But the ground rode better than most had feared and Le Beau Bai and last year's runner-up, Giles Cross, became involved in an intense battle from which both emerged with immense credit.
Five fences from home, Giles Cross, the long-time leader, took three lengths out of his rival, yet this may have been a desperate, last move by Denis O'Regan to shake off his pursuer. Whatever his motive, it amounted to little, and Le Beau Bai galloped on relentlessly and was able pass Giles Cross in the run to the penultimate fence.
Le Beau Bai responded to every call from his jockey Charlie Poste and when he crossed the line, he still appeared to have something left. He won by seven lengths from Giles Cross, with 15 lengths back to Cappa Bleu in third.
"He was third two years ago (behind Dream Alliance), and it all went to plan this time," Lee said. "I was worried the ground wasn't going to be soft enough for him, but Charlie got some great leaps out of him."
Hennessy Gold Cup winner Carruthers was pulled up at the 18th after never appearing to be travelling well. The conditions may have been against him, though jockey Mattie Batchelor hinted at other possible reasons. "He was jumping very big down the back, which is not him," he said.
Nicky Henderson's Kempton Christmas bonanza continued at a gallop. A treble yesterday meant he won five of the track's 12 races at the two-day meeting. Yesterday's highlight was Sprinter Sacre, which turned in an exciting round of jumping after capitalising on a first-fence blunder by Peddlers Cross. He won by 16 lengths to get a quote of 2/1 from Skybet for the Arkle Trophy. Jockey Barry Geraghty said: "I adore this horse. That was top class, and for a big horse that was very clever."
Geraghty and Henderson also combined to land the Desert Orchid Chase with Finian's Rainbow, which remains a 7/1 chance for the Champion Chase after displaying great determination. He had set out to make all, but a bad mistake four out knocked him back to third and he was forced to rally bravely after the last. Lifestyle completed the treble with an easy success over stablemate Higgy's Ragazzo. (© Daily Telegraph, London)