By Tom Lee

Grand National Clues At Warwick: Control to cause a Storm for Lee

By Tom Lee
Storm Control is a leading contender for the Classic Chase at Warwick on Saturday afternoon.
Storm Control is a leading contender for the Classic Chase at Warwick on Saturday afternoon.

Our resident columnist Tom Lee looks ahead to the weekend action and turns his attentions to Saturday's Classic Chase, which could provide some vital Grand National pointers, while he picks out an eye-catching Willie Mullins-trained runner...

Does the next One For Arthur lurk among the 13 declared runners for Warwick's famous Classic Chase? Due to be run at 3.00pm on Saturday afternoon, this 3m 5f stamina test certainly isn't one for the faint of heart. 

Four years ago, it was the aforementioned contender who powered through the mud to a six-length victory, setting himself up for a famous trip to Aintree, where on a warm April day he would stay on best of all to become the first Scottish-trained winner of National Hunt racing's most iconic contest since 1979.    

Lucinda Russell's stable star showed the Classic Chase / National double is an achievable combination, but might we be in for a repeat in 2021?

Six lengths adrift and runner-up in the 2017 Classic was the Kerry Lee-trained Goodtoknow. Herefordshire-based Lee, happily sponsored by horseracing.net, knows what it's like to win this prestigious prize, sending out 20/1 outsider Russe Blanc to land the spoils in 2016.

Grand National Odds

Reminiscing about a day where an inspired Charlie Poste took plenty of the credit for a brilliant display in the saddle, Lee comments: "What a day that was. The only white horse in training, not grey, literally white, 'Russe' already was quite well known as a decent staying chaser who'd notched a few wins both for me and previously when trained by my Dad, but this was easily his career highlight.

"The saddle moved mid-race, but Charlie was a rock-solid horseman and wasn't going to let that put him off, he obviously wanted his slice of the prize money!"

That leads to a broader enquiry, namely the Lee stable's record with staying chasers:

"If you saw where and indeed how I train, you'd soon see it lends itself. An ultra-stiff gallop on the side of a mountain in Herefordshire, the width of a fine coat of paint on the English side the Welsh border. I don't think it's any co-incidence we've had some luck in races like the Welsh National, Grand National Trial and Classic Chase."

Given she's also a Grade 1 winner in Ireland with Kylemore Lough in 2016, as well as more recently landing the 2019 BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham with the popular mare Happy Diva, those remarks perhaps don't tell a full story about a trainer who had big boots to fill when taking over from father Richard back in 2015.

So what of her Lee's chances in this year's big one at Warwick?

"It's a huge step into the unknown. My runner, Storm Control, is a horse I like a lot and would love to believe could develop into a Grand National type. He's been tough and jumped fantastically well when landing his last two at Cheltenham this winter. He's a horse who keeps meeting the challenge every time we raise the bar, plus he's only just turned eight. 

"That said, I'm keeping a very close watch on the going reports. This weekend's race is an extra three furlongs, so ideally I'd love the forecast rain to avoid Warwick altogether. Soft ground we know isn't a problem, but the possible deluge coming on the day of the race would make it very deep, and then we'd have a decision to make. The Clerk of the Course, Jane Hedley, has told me to expect 'splodgey' conditions. I really hope conditions are suitable and we can run and give his owner another great day."

Looking elsewhere in the Classic line-up, trainer Alan King also knows what it takes to secure this prize, winning it with both D'Argent (2008) and West End Rocker (2011).

A decade on from the most recent of those, his seven-year-old Notachance has won two of his last four and has seemingly been saved for this since taking Bangor's Anne Duchess Of Westminster back in mid-November. Under a feather weight, he looks a worthy favourite.

Also keep an eye out for last year's second and fifth in the corresponding event, Captain Chaos and Le Breuil.

Good To Be Back

Panic Attack gave Ireland's perennial Champion trainer Willie Mullins yet another winner on one of his cross channel raids 12 months ago, landing Market Rasen's listed mares' bumper by 10 lengths in the hands of Paul Townend, his first ever runner at the Lincolnshire venue. 

What a different place the world is a year on. The good news is, Irish runners can once again access UK tracks, and the irrepressible Mullins is back for more on Saturday afternoon (3.15pm), trying his hand in the very same mares' bumper, this time with Cheltenham Festival Champion Bumper hopeful Grangee

A daughter of Great Pretender, she ran out a convincing winner on Soft ground at Galway in October, her only outing to date. 

Cheltenham Festival Tips

The trainer's son, ace amateur rider Patrick, told the press: “Grangee is very petite, we were worried about the soft ground at Galway, which is a tough track, but she handled it very well.

“She surprised us with how impressive she was in a very strongly-run race, so Willie nominated her for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival afterwards. “We thought this race at Market Rasen would be a nice stepping-stone on the way. Market Rasen is very different to Galway, but we have no reason to think that it won’t suit her.

“Panic Attack was very good in the race last year, and these Listed Mares’ bumpers are very valuable for owners and breeders looking to get some black type, so we’re always on the lookout for those races in England."

Depending on where you shop around prior to Saturday's race, Grangee can be backed at anything from 20/1 to 33/1 for the Festival target suggested by her trainer.

Cheltenham Festival Races
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