Timeform preview the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on December 27.
"The Lee family know all about winning this race and if his jumping holds up then he should fare much better than when 10th from a 10 lb higher mark a year ago"
A race that looks set to be well represented in the Welsh Grand National is the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle, which saw Beware The Bear given a fine ride as he overhauled Bishops Road late in the day. The winner looked beaten down the back stretch but responded well to his rider's urgings, winning despite the saddle slipping. It's hard to know what to expect this time, though, as he may find himself too far back if running a similar race here. Bishops Road, on the other hand, is a consistent sort when getting his favoured testing conditions and, off the same mark once more, he looks dangerously well handicapped.
At the five-day stage, the weight-adjusted Timeform ratings are topped by the relatively unexposed Wild West Wind. He bettered last season's form when winning a 3m handicap at the track (by one and three quarter lengths from Alfie Spinner) and looks the type to progress further. He idled that day and could be the type to stay ahead of the handicapper, despite this 4 lb higher mark.
Rock The Kasbah is another with winning course form, having recorded a third win at Chepstow on his reappearance in October (also runner-up here in a bumper and the Silver Trophy handicap hurdle). He is a thorough stayer and looks to have been deliberately kept fresh for this assignment.
Over the past decade, Dream Alliance (2009) and Le Beau Bai (2011) both won having run in the race previously, and this also applies to the second of Mountainous' two wins in the race (2015) which actually took place in 2016 due to an abandonment.
Last year's renewal could be represented by runner-up Raz de Maree, who warmed up for this task with a recent outing over hurdles at Southwell. He is only 1 lb higher now and is respected despite his advancing years. Houblon des Obeaux was third, though 15 lengths behind Raz de Maree, while Vicente was sixth last year before going on to win a second Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April; he proved at least as good as ever when beaten a neck by Perfect Candidate at Cheltenham last time and is respected off his 1 lb higher mark.
Firebird Flyer (eighth, runner-up the season before), Bishops Road (10th) and Royale Knight (11th) all ran in last season's renewal, while Milansbar and former winner Emperor's Choice were pulled up. The latter is on a very attractive mark at present but it's for good reason.
That final comment also applies to O'Faolains Boy, who was poor last term, and a bigger threat could come from over the Irish Sea. The 2008 winner Notre Pere was the last Irish raider to triumph, however recent Troytown third Bonny Kate and stout stayer Folsom Blue both have all of the attributes needed to follow in his footsteps, for all that the latter's temperament has not always convinced.
Last season's Eider winner Mysteree returns from a 284-day absence but that shouldn't be a concern to his supporters as he has a tremendous record fresh (record after similar time off reads 111), and he further underlined his credentials for a stamina-sapping test like this when finishing one and a half lengths second to Chase The Spud in the Midlands Grand National (Houblon des Obeaux fourth, Alfie Spinner ninth) back in March. Chase The Spud won his reappearance at Haydock last month but, while respected on such a role, is now on a career-high mark in a more competitive race.
At the risk of naming every horse in the race, Bob Ford (who has looked back in form for his new yard(s) this term), the unexposed Pobbles Bay, who ran over an inadequate trip at Aintree last month and whose novice handicap form worked out very well, and Badger Ales Trophy runner-up Final Nudge all have realistic claims of providing their respective trainers with maiden wins in the race. Prolific point winner Ask The Weatherman is proven in the mud and not one to dismiss too readily, either.
Market leader Beware the Bear could find himself too far back this time, and preference is for the horse he beat last time: Bishops Road. The Lee family know all about winning this race and if his jumping holds up then he should fare much better than when 10th from a 10 lb higher mark a year ago. It's not an easy puzzle to solve, though, and it's worth splitting stakes with Wild West Wind. He may lack big-field experience, but he looked an ideal sort for this race when winning last time and - crucially - there could still be plenty more improvement to come.