Last Year's Winner: Native River
- Richard Johnson
- Colin Tizzard
- 11st 12lb
- Starting Price:
- Season Form Figures:
- Previous Best:
- 1st – Hennessy Gold Cup, Newbury (December 2016)
The Coral Welsh Grand National remains the big betting race over Christmas but that was not always the case as it formerly took place in February in the 1970s and over Easter in the 1960s. The winner has gone on to win the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in the 1980s (Burrough Hill Lad), 1990s (Cool Ground and Master Oats) and since the turn of the century (Synchronised). The future blue riband winners aside, it is more widely regarded as better guide to the Randox Health Grand National. Corbiere (1982/82) and Earth Summit (1997/98) completed the double in the same season whereas Rhyme ‘n’ Reason (1987/88) and Party Politics (1991/92) both went one place better at Aintree than at Chepstow. Silver Birch also went on to win the Grand National two seasons after his success in 2004.
I am usually against the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly the Hennessy) form in the Welsh National as we had to go back to 1987 to find the last winner to run in that Newbury handicap including 12 favourites or second-favourites as horses to run well there on usually-testing ground find it hard to recover in time for another brutal test a month later but Native River completed the Newbury-Chepstow double last season thus emulating Playschool.
There were mitigating circumstances 12 months ago however (a) the 2016 Ladbrokes Trophy was run on close to good ground making it easier from which to recover (two runners had already come out and won big handicaps before the Welsh National), (b) Native River was 8lb ‘well in’ even after his penalty and (c) it was far less classy renewal than usual as the eventual close-up Gold Cup third was taking on what was considered to be a bunch of below-par-for-the-race, out-and-out-sloggers-opposition at the time. Therefore I want to see further evidence before not treating his victory as a one off.
The Welsh Grand National used to be a strong favourites' race with the market leader scoring six times between 1988-1994 but just two of the last 20 market leaders (Silver Birch and Native River) has justified such market support. That said, Synchronised and Halcon Genelardais were long-time ante-post favourites only to be replaced as market leader on the morning of the race and the only three semi-surprises in the last 40+ years were the successes of Earth Summit (25/1), Dream Alliance (20/1) and Mountainous (20/1).
Recent course form has been a big positive as 14 of the last 26 winners were given some match practice at Chepstow earlier in the same season.
Recent course form has been a big positive as 14 of the last 26 winners were given some match practice at Chepstow earlier in the same season. Eight of those 14 ran in the Rehearsal Chase which was moved to Newcastle in 2005 so the Chepstow factor should in theory not be as important but, still, five of the last eight winners had won at Chepstow before (Mountainous was winning the race for the second time last season) so course form remains highly significant, be it this season or in the past.
Winners from outside the handicap are not uncommon and Mountainous became the latest four years ago winning being 5lb wrong at the weights. After a spell when higher-weighted horses started to perform with much more distinction (three winners between 2006-2010 carried 10st) following on from nine straight years of winners carrying under 11st, three of the last six winners have carried no more than 10st 1lb.
In keeping with the other major handicap chases run in the first half of the season, horses aged in double figures really struggle here. Since Rag Trade took this event back in 1976, only two winners were aged 10+, the dual winner Mountainous and Riverside Boy in a particularly poor renewal featuring just eight runners of which six were running from outside the handicap and half were fast approaching veteran status.
The Lee family have won three of the last six runnings, two for Richard and one for Kerry Lee in her debut season holding the licence two years ago. Venetia Williams has twice been successful and Paul Nicholls has won this slog twice including saddling a 1-2-3 in 2005. He has come very close twice since supplying the runner-up in photo finishes. Jonjo O’Neill has also landed the spoils twice since the turn of the century for J P McManus.
The Pipe team were dominant in this race winning five times in six seasons during the late-eighties and early-nineties but their touch in this contest appears to have deserted them having supplied just two placed runners from their last 37 contenders. Northern raiders have also failed to come to terms with this race of late. Their last winner was the Monica Dickinson-trained Righthand Man back in 1984 despite sending down plenty of leading fancies including three beaten favourites.
At a glance summary
- A run at Chepstow earlier in the season
- A victory at Chepstow earlier in their career
- Trained by Kerry Lee, Paul Nicholls, Venetia Williams or Jonjo O’Neill
- Aged 10+
- Ladbrokes Trophy runners
- Trained by David Pipe
- Northern-based raiders