sport

Bay tops Welsh weights

Tidal Bay heads a maximum field of 20 runners in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on Saturday.

Paul Nicholls' veteran proved his aptitude for marathon distances when winning the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in April 2012 and went on to prove he could still mix it with the best around when victorious in the Lexus Chase in Ireland last Christmas.

Despite turning 13 in just a few days, he reappeared with a win over hurdles at Wetherby but did not find the Betfair Chase at Haydock enough of a stamina test.

Nicholls believes the return to a marathon distance will be right up Tidal Bay's street.

He said: "Tidal Bay won the bet365 at Sandown over three-miles-five on very heavy ground. You can take your time with him and he has touch of class."

Nicholls has a second string to his bow in Hawkes Point, but he has only had 10 runs in his life.

"Hawkes Point ran very well at Chepstow last time," said the Ditcheat handler.

"We've thought he would stay marathon trips for a while."

Well Refreshed has always looked an ideal candidate for this type of race since winning the Grand National Trial at Haydock last season.

He returned to form when third at Sandown last time out and the presence of Tidal Bay means he only carries 10st 2lb.

Trainer Gary Moore said: "He seems in good form and he must have a good chance.

"He's got a lovely racing weight as far as I'm concerned.

"As long as he jumps a bit better than he did at Sandown he must have some sort of chance."

Home hopes also rest with Teaforthree, narrowly touched off in the race 12 months ago and third in the Grand National at Aintree.

However, trainer Rebecca Curtis has made it known that the nine-year-old met with a setback earlier in the season.

Curtis said: "He had a good summer's break. He did have a slight bit of a setback just after he came back in, which is why he's late running again.

"It's a shame not to have got a prep run into him, but that's the way it has gone this year.

"He'll be very fit

but he normally does just take a run to be at his best. You're always vulnerable to a horse at the bottom of the weights, but we're there hoping for the best.

"We've not completely ruled out he might have a run in the Gold Cup this year as he jumps and travels so well, and then we'll be thinking of Grand National again and hoping he doesn't get a stupid weight."

Jonjo O'Neill's Merry King is only six but ran a cracker in the Hennessy to finish fifth.

"Merry King is in good form. He ran a nice race in the Hennessy. He came there well but when they quickened up, he couldn't go with them," said O'Neill.

Stablemate Alfie Sherrin was not declared.

Richard Lee, who won the race two years ago with Le Beau Bai, has two runners in Knock A Hand and Mountainous.

Lee said: "I hope they've both got a good chance as they stay well.

"I thought Mountainous' jumping round the course the other day was fantastic, and it helps they know where they are going.

"Both are proper staying chasers who want a trip."

Evan Williams is another local trainer looking to keep the prize in Wales but One In A Milan will be one of the outsiders.

"I always thought the race would suit and we'd get there with a good run under our belt, but we've only got a bad run under our belt," said Williams.

"There are plenty of times when big-priced horses get into the first four and he'll run well in a big race one day."

Jim Dreaper faced a logistical nightmare with Goonyella after the Christmas Eve ferry on which he was originally booked was cancelled due to rough seas. He was instead forced to travel from Belfast on Boxing Day.

"He left our yard at 7am and got to Chepstow at midnight so it was a long journey but he's there," said Dreaper.

"He's eating and drinking - not as much as we'd like, but I'm sure he will pick up throughout the day.

"He needs all the distance you can find after three miles. He seems to stay extremely well, and obviously the Chepstow race is ideal for that sort of horse.

"He definitely has a chance, He's only six, and it's possibly pitching him in a bit too much or a bit too high at this stage of his life, but he doesn't know he's six and we're anxious to have a go.

"The only similarity with Notre Pere (2008 winner) is that they're both genuine, honest stayers.

"The hustle and bustle won't upset him much. We're just hopeful he settles in."