Moloney gets Mountainous to Welsh peak
There was effectively a home winner of the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow as Mountainous prevailed in an enthralling finish.
The 20/1 chance is owned by the Powys-based breeders James and Jean Potter along with Ffos Las racecourse founder Dai Walters and is trained by Richard Lee, who has a Welsh postcode but is based on the Shropshire/ Herefordshire border.
For Lee, it was a second victory in the three-and-three-quarter-mile endurance test in three years but this was a far closer-cut affair than that of the ill-fated Le Beau Bai, with Mountainous scraping to the line a head and half a length clear of the Paul Nicholls pair Hawkes Point and Tidal Bay.
Stablemate Knock A Hand had cut out much of the running through the mud, with Paul Moloney and Mountainous, having only his 14th start under Rules and running from 5lb out of the handicap, creeping into contention in a race where stacks were still in with a live chance at the final fence.
"We lost Le Beau Bai, who was a lovely little horse, and you never think you will find another, but it looks like we've got one to live up to him," said Lee. "Mountainous is actually a far bigger and scopier horse and he was very, very brave. This is just as good as the first time. I couldn't believe how well he was going. Paul gave him an intelligent ride.
"From the moment he came into our yard as a five-year-old, I said he was a Welsh National horse. I love my staying chases."
Moloney said: "Fair play to the trainer, he knows how to get one ready. I'd seen a couple of his replays and he tends to idle in front, so I didn't want to get there too soon."
Lee will delay thinking about the Aintree Grand National and said: "This was the plan, that's all I'm going to say." Last year's Lexus Chase hero, the magnificent Tidal Bay, produced a staggering effort under 11st 12lb, as usual digging himself into contention from an unpromising position. Owner Graham Wylie is not ruling out the National, which the near-13-year-old missed last season.
He said: "He needs these staying trips these days, but he jumped well and that was great. He'll have a break and he'll get a Cheltenham (Gold Cup) entry in case it turns up soft. You never know, he might just be okay over four-and-a-half miles at Aintree though."
Moloney was given a four-day whip ban (January 11-14) while Tidal Bay's jockey Daryl Jacob will be suspended on January 11-12 for the same offence.
Le Rocher is rated highly by Nick Williams but had not been seen in Britain before his victory in the coral.co.uk Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle. A second Grade One for the stable in the space of a week after Reve De Sivola in the Long Walk, this gelding had followed what is becoming a Williams speciality in heading to France for his four previous outings.