Secret Reprieve returns to Chepstow for Welsh National defence

Evan Williams’ Secret Reprieve will return to scene of his last success when he bids to defend his Coral Welsh Grand National title at Chepstow on Monday.

The seven-year-old has not run since winning the race in January, after waterlogging caused the postponement of the fixture from its usual post-Christmas slot.

In front of empty grandstands, Secret Reprieve justified his position as the 5-2 favourite as he overcame a broken breast-girth to stay on convincingly and record a three-length success in the hands of Adam Wedge.

Dry weather and unsuitably good ground have prevented Williams from running the bay since that success, but the trainer has form for producing a big run from a fresh horse as State Of Play won the Ladbrokes Trophy, then known as the Hennessy, on his first run of the campaign in 2006.

Williams with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow last season
Williams with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow last season (David Davies/PA)

“I would loved to have got a run under his belt, but I haven’t been able to do that because the ground has been far too dry for us. That’s the situation we’re in and everything else is fine,” Williams said on a press call hosted by Great British Racing.

“We were thinking about Cheltenham and then the Grand National, it looked like that job might happen and we missed the cut – the field was the only option then. He’s come in and he’s done his work all through the autumn. I would dearly have liked to have gone for a run somewhere but the weather was just against us.

“Some horses need the confidence of running in races and winning and that gets them there, other horses you can slot in because they are good enough to slot in and I think if you’re classy enough, then you will get away with it.

“State Of Play won a Hennessy without a run and I keep clinging on to that. That was a good while ago and we weren’t as well known then, but they said that was impossible and nothing, absolutely nothing, in horse racing is impossible.”

Wedge returning to the winners enclosure following his success
Wedge returning to the winners enclosure following his success (David Davies/PA)

Secret Reprieve runs off a mark of 140 this time around, some 6lb higher than in January, but the presence of 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River at the head of the field means Williams’ runner will still be lightly weighted.

“I think the best horse in the race is the top (weight) horse (Native River), it makes the race a very classy race because he is a very classy animal,” he said.

“He’s a Gold Cup winner and I think he has an outstanding chance.

“We will need a lot of things in our favour, but it’s the same with any three-mile-six-furlong handicap chase at the highest level and what we have to remember is that this is a much better race this year.”

Last season things did go in the gelding’s favour and Williams believes the stars aligned for his runner as a long-held ambition was realised in a race hugely significant to the Welshman and his family.

“It was a huge day, a day that I’d always wanted but was struggling to get, so when it came we were over the moon,” he said.

“There was a fair amount of relief more than anything, I think that’s the biggest emotion.

“On the run up to a big race when you know that you’ve got an outstanding chance if it all comes right, it’s the relief and pride that’s a huge part of it because it is a race that I’ve always wanted to win.

“I’ve always gone on record as saying that the race I most wanted to win in my life was the Welsh Grand National.

“All of my life I really never thought that we would be training the quality and the number of horses that we have developed to train. I never dreamt that would happen.

“No matter what we win in the future and what we’ve done in the past, it will always be the extra special bit in the corner of your heart that we won the Welsh National.”

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