Stick with Sona Sasta in Chepstow bog

Bill Esdaile
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BEFORE Christmas I advised backing SONA SASTA each-way at 12/1 for the Coral Welsh National and I see absolutely no reason to jump ship now.

The race on December 27 was abandoned due to monsoon-like conditions in Monmouthshire, but tomorrow’s rescheduled version at 3.20pm is looking like it will get the go ahead.

It has to be said that this looks, on paper at least, one of the weakest renewals of this great race in quite a few years. The weights have risen markedly with the defection of Tidal Bay and others, with Donald McCain’s Across The Bay now set to shoulder top weight.

Sona Sasta can be a tricky customer, but he won really well on soft ground at this course last month and his only other visit to this idiosyncratic venue resulted in a fine second to Le Beau Bai just over a year ago, who went on to land the big one a few weeks later.

What we have here is a proven stayer who loves bottomless conditions and has absolutely no weight to carry. David Pipe’s 10-year-old is now a 7/1 shot and he has outstanding each-way claims.

The fly in the ointment could well be the hot favourite Teaforthree, for whom this race has been the target all season.

Rebecca Curtis’s nine-year-old, the mount of AP McCoy tomorrow, produced a fine display of jumping to win the four-mile National Hunt Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, and he flourishes around Chepstow, winning both times he has encountered soft ground or worse here.

The one worry with him is that he ran in the Hennessy at Newbury and horses who ran in that contest have a poor recent record in this event.

That said, the extra week will surely help and his fine sixth in the Hennessy was franked in no uncertain terms by the second and third, Tiday Bay and First Lieutenant, finishing first and second in the Grade One Lexus Chase over Christmas.

Teaforthree is undoubtedly the one I’m most worried about, but he’s a general 3/1 chance now and that is plenty short enough for a race like this.

I’m going to give the rest of the Chepstow card a miss and head over to Sandown instead.

The highlight at the Esher venue is the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle (2.25pm) and Nicky Henderson’s Golden Hoof is sure to have plenty of supporters with the yard having won the last two renewals.

However, he didn’t appear to beat much over course and distance last time and I’m going to take him on with MELODIC RENDEZVOUS, who did followers of this column a favour when winning at Cheltenham last month.

Jeremy Scott has said that he is one of the nicest horses he has ever trained and the seven-year-old son of Where Or When did really well to win what turned into a sprint at Prestbury Park last time having been held up.

The Scott team continue in fine form and with Melodic Rendezvous having already proved that he handles testing conditions, he should go very close in this.

Poet, Buthelezi and Court Minstrel are all live dangers, but the biggest threat may come from Charlie Longsdon’s Pendra who is unbeaten and has always shaped like a very good horse.

The card is set to get underway with the rescheduled Dipper Novices’ Chase (12.15pm) from Cheltenham’s abandoned New Year’s Day meeting and CAPTAIN CONAN is a strong fancy.

Henderson’s French-bred six-year-old won the Tolworth Hurdle on this card a year ago, but has always looked a chaser in the making.

He is unbeaten in two starts over fences and connections have decided to step him up in trip to 2m5f, to see if he can avoid meeting stablemate Simonsig at the Festival.

I think he will cope with the extra distance perfectly and I’d also advise punters to take some of the 6/1 available with William Hill for the Jewson Novices’ Chase.

He will be much shorter if he scoots up tomorrow.

Don’t miss KENTFORD GREY LADY in the 12.45pm. She was very impressive in a handicap at this course last month and looks attractively weighted in this.

Finally, ALFIE SPINNER has been surprisingly diverted from the Welsh National to take part in Sandown’s finale, but he can land the prize with Noel Fehily in the saddle.

You can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile for all my racing views.

■ Pointers…
CAPTAIN CONAN 12.15pm Sandown (tomorrow)
KENTFORD GREY LADY 12.45pm Sandown (tomorrow)
MELODIC RENDEZVOUS 2.25pm Sandown (tomorrow)
SONA SASTA e/w 3.20pm Chepstow (tomorrow)
ALFIE SPINNER e/w 3.40pm Sandown (tomorrow)
CAPTAIN CONAN 6/1 Jewson Chase (Cheltenham Festival)