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Thursday, 3 January 2013

Coral Welsh National - Value in the Wye Valley

Did you know there are apparently more atoms in a standard glass of water than there are glasses of water in all of the oceans on Earth?  Given the amount of rain that has fallen on Cheltenham over the Christmas period (68mm), and Chepstow on 22nd December alone (31.98mm – the highest December daily fall for 8 years), I think that fact could be rewritten:  there are more atoms on west country/Monmouthshire racetracks than there are glasses of champagne consumed in a big-race winners’ enclosure. Or something.  Postponed due to more moisture than your average otter’s pocket, the Coral Welsh National has been rescheduled for this Saturday, and I have had a few thoughts that could, with a bit of good fortune, help get the New Year’s bubbly flowing for Palphabet readers.

I have talked up this horse before (6 minutes into this clip). I have backed him and been disappointed before. I have also been encouraged by him before. And before I go any further, I’ll give you his name: Soll. A close relative of Denman (not quite a half-brother as the progeny collide on the sire Presenting’s side, rather than on that of the mare), this Derrick Mossop-owned and Jo Hughes-trained beast has made the switch over from Willie Mullins’s yard in Closutton, Co Carlow, to a stable in Lambourn where the close attention of a female guv’nor who trains only a 'Norfolk-handful' of thoroughbreds over the sticks (she has six jumpers) seems to be paying dividends. The change in scenery from illustrious to relatively unknown may seem strange to some, but the owner specifically wanted a woman running a focused operation to take over the day-to-day training schedule of Soll as he felt the horse could benefit from a bit of extra TLC, and Hughes is said to be waxing lyrical about the latest recruit to her team.

The ears of the pundits have been pricked too.  Soll was the pick of a couple of presenters on The Morning Line as he vied for the 2012 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury off a mark of 140. The very impressive Henderson Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite, Bobs Worth went on to win that race but the depth and quality of the field was plain to see. Tidal Bay gallantly carried top weight and achieved a runner-up place, was raised from an offical rating of 166 to 169 and went on to win the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on the 27thDecember, under one of three festive rides from Ruby Walsh that, collectively, made Alan Sweetman's Ireland's Eye well up with admiration.  Sweetman wrote in his Racing Post Christmas Highlights piece yesterday:  “In all my time watching racing I don't think I've witnessed three successive races won in such a manner by the same jockey”. He called it a "feat worthy of comparison with anything in the wider sporting world, as awe-inspiring as a Lionel Messi hat-trick, a sequence of birdies by Rory McIlroy or three aces in a row from Novak Djokovic".  Praise indeed, although I think Alan missed the opportunity to parallel the joy brought about by Walsh's equestrian talents with the ecstacy felt by Leyton Orient fans on account of current golden boy Moses Odubajo's sweet feet.  Ahem, I digress..

In the process of winning the Lexus, Tidal Bay saw off Gigginstown House Stud owned First Lieutenant, a 2 ½ length runner-up to Bobs Worth in last year’s RSA and himself placed third in the Hennessy, and the much-revered Flemenstar, who some have been quick to write off over the three-miles attempted in Ireland on Friday but who Tom Segal has said via the Racing Post’s website, has actually enhanced his credentials as a staying chaser.  Whether that thing goes for the Champion Chase and gives Sprinter Sacre a proper challenge; the Ryanair and wins a mid-distance test that Peter Casey’s son Francis described as a non-entity (upsetting Cheltenham chairman Robert Waley-Cohen in the process); or the Gold Cup for the most prestige; the fact that he got beaten by a head by an unbelievably likeable horse-jockey partnership should be taken in the Christmas spirit rather than bah-humbugged away like a failed new year’s resolution.

Anyway, that’s Flemenstar.

A Palphabet favourite, Wayne Hutchinson, causes 14/1 Welsh National shot Universal Soldier to catch the eye but I’ve noticed this evening that Soll has been tipped by Ben Hutton on the Racing Post’s Welsh National preview video, and see on that he’s one of the most fancied bets anywhere in sport tonight.
Soll seems to be on punters' radars ahead of the weekend
There’s clearly some serious attention on this big chestnut gelding.  Why not have a watch of his performance at Newbury, focusing on his jumping, fluency in running and without worrying too much about him fading away on testing ground on this seasonal reappearance.

Mark Howard makes some encouraging comments about Soll in his National Hunt bible One Jump Ahead. Howard says this:

“Soll won over hurdles for John Quinn prior to joining Willie Mullins in Ireland. The Presenting gelding provided Mullins with his 100th winner of the season last term (fastest ever in Ireland) when scoring at Down Royal in February. Brought down at Cheltenham [in the 4m National Hunt Chase], he has only run three times over fences and is held in high regard by his connections. “He’s a big baby but hopefully he has a big future,” remarked his owner Derrick Mossop, while Mullins stated in March: “He’s a big staying type and a horse we like a lot.” There could be a major staying handicap to be won with him this season.

In a handicap, you need a horse who can show improvement above his mark. I’ve just got off the phone to the owner’s son, Dan Mossop, who couldn’t contain his excitement about this “unexposed giant of a horse” and thinks he can run well above his mark of 139 under a weight of 10-12.

A few things points to summarise why Soll represents value for Saturday:

1. To win a race like this, you need to be a strong jumper, with plenty of stamina. Soll’s jumping is excellent and stamina is a key attribute.

2. His trainer, Jo Hughes, has been full of praise for his improvement since his decent performance in the Hennessy.

3. That Hennessy was very strong. For Tidal Bay (runner-up) to be raised by the handicapper from 166 to 169 and still win the Lexus shows the strength of the Newbury race

4. Front page headline grabber and AP McCoy mount Teaforthree won the 4m festival race in which Soll was brought down, and has figures of 2311 at Chepstow, justifying favouritism. But Teaforthree had a warm up race at Cheltenham in November before finishing sixth in the Hennessy, just over 6 lengths in front of Soll, who wasn’t really match fit after a long lay-off since March, when he wasn’t right in himself. Yet Teaforthree heads the market for Saturday at a best-price 3/1 now, whilst Soll is available at four or five times the price. It would not surprise me one iota if Tom Segal makes Soll his Pricewise pick when the Racing Post is digitally published tomorrow night.

I’ve had a few stabs on Betfair and Bet365 at prices ranging from 18/1 down to 14/1 with stakes that might be considered atomic to some hardcore punters but are fairly gigantic by my standards, and I hope to be able to buy more than a few glasses of water with the winnings come Saturday night. Let’s hope this enthusiasm seems more cosmic than comic by Sunday morning.

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