Secret Reprieve team eyeing Grand National outing

Connections have their fingers crossed Secret Reprieve makes the cut for the Randox Grand National after they confirmed they are aiming him at the world’s greatest steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday week.

It was only at the weekend trainer Evan Williams and owners William and Angela Rucker made the decision to go for the Liverpool showpiece.

However, the Coral Welsh Grand National hero needs seven horses to come out to make the maximum 40-strong field.

“I have always been a believer in those big handicaps what will be, will be. If those horses come out that would be fantastic and if they don’t, it wasn’t meant to be,” Williams told Nick Luck’s podcast.

“I can’t pretend the plan was we’d end up in the Grand National, because it wasn’t. We only had the green light on Saturday that was what we would do.”

“He’s in great form and we wouldn’t even be thinking about the race if he wasn’t.

“The reality was we had looked at Cheltenham and I thought that a couple more weeks would be of benefit to us. It was only that I had not sat down with Mr and Mrs Rucker until Saturday.

“He’s a grand horse. If I have a weakness then it is buying horses that get slower as they get older. You would say he’s old fashioned, but that is the horse I buy as a youngster and the type of horse I love dealing with.”

Secret Reprieve’s regular rider Adam Wedge is in a race of his own to be fit in time for Aintree after he suffered a back injury in a fall at Newbury in early March.

Williams said: “He sees the main man about his scan and everything tomorrow. That will be D-Day to some extent because we want to get him back riding for every day next week really.

“I would say tomorrow is a big day for him.”

Secret Reprieve is generally a 14-1 chance for the Grand National.

Wedge working towards return to saddle in time for Aintree

Adam Wedge is keeping his fingers crossed as he aims for a potential injury comeback aboard Secret Reprieve in the Randox Grand National.

Wedge was triumphant on the Evan Williams-trained seven-year-old in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in January, triumphing by three lengths despite his girth snapping during the race and his saddle slipping considerably.

The victory came after Wedge demonstrated his physical and mental durability when taking the ride on the horse following two heavy falls earlier on the same card.

Adam Wedge aboard Secret Reprieve in the Coral Welsh Grand National
Adam Wedge aboard Secret Reprieve in the Coral Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)

Wedge’s toughness was put to the test again when he parted company with Hoi Polloi in a novice hurdle at Newbury in March, after which he gathered himself off the floor and returned to action for four rides the following afternoon back at the same track.

A subsequent scan revealed a fracture to his T12 vertebra, however, forcing him to take a break from riding which would include forfeiting his rides at the Cheltenham Festival.

Since the fracture was discovered, Wedge has begun the rehabilitation process – using the Injury Jockeys Fund facility in Lambourn, Oaksey House, and also enduring sessions in an ice chamber to aid his recovery.

“I’m getting there slowly,” he said.

“I’m getting into Oaksey House and getting on well with all of the team there and the therapy.

“Fingers crossed, as long as an X-ray looks good in a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll be working towards being back for Aintree.”

Although the aim is to return to the saddle for the Grand National, Wedge is aware that the nature of the injury means he cannot rush his recovery.

“It’s very much the plan, but I’ve got to go with what the specialists say,” he added.

“It’s a back injury at the end of the day – it’s not a collar bone or anything like that, (so) everything’s got to be 110 per cent right with it.”

Glamorgan-based Williams had a number of Cheltenham Festival runners which Wedge would have ordinarily partnered, the most prolific being Christmas Hurdle winner Silver Streak – who finished sixth behind Honeysuckle in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

Another likely partner would have been Rebecca Curtis’ Lisnagar Oscar, aboard whom Wedge triumphed in last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle.

Adam Wedge after winning the Stayers' Hurdle with Lisnagar Oscar
Adam Wedge after winning the Stayers’ Hurdle with Lisnagar Oscar (Simon Cooper/PA)

The eight-year-old fell when attempting the defend his title, but Wedge conceded it was still a struggle to watch the whole meeting from the sidelines.

“It’s very hard,” he said.

“But at the end of the day I’m not the first person who’s going to miss out at Cheltenham – and I certainly won’t be the last.

“It is very hard but it’s great to see the horses running, even though I can’t be riding.”

Sweetening the lay-off is the prospect of reuniting with Secret Reprieve in the National, who is a leading fancy after his impressive Chepstow success but still as yet not guaranteed to make the cut for the final field, should connections opt to run.

“It’s definitely a ride to look forward to,” Wedge said.

“He’s a horse that seems to be improving, and I think Evan’s done a fantastic job in getting him in the right sort of form to go there.”

Secret Reprieve with Adam Wedge and Evan Williams
Secret Reprieve with Adam Wedge and Evan Williams (David Davies/PA)

Wedge first experienced the unique Aintree course when partnering Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Viking Blond in 2013. That horse was pulled up, and Wedge then parted company with Keith Dalgleish’s One In A Milan when tackling the race again the next year.

He could well be due a change in fortunes, because two further efforts have not resulted in completions either, – with Buywise unseating him in 2018 and Joe Farrell pulled up in 2019.

“I’ve ridden in it a couple of times and I haven’t got around yet,” he said.

“It’s definitely a race I want to win – it’d be right at the top of the list I’d say, for me at least.”

Cheltenham blow for sidelined Adam Wedge

Adam Wedge insists he will be cheering for Silver Streak as loudly as anyone in next week’s Unibet Champion Hurdle after being ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival due to injury.

Wedge steered the Evan Williams-trained grey to Grade One glory in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day and had been looking forward to renewing the partnership in the feature event at Prestbury Park on Tuesday.

However, the Welshman was unseated at the final flight when riding Hoi Polloi at Newbury on Friday – and while he took up four rides at the Berkshire track the following afternoon, a scan on Monday morning revealed he had sustained a fracture to his T12 vertebra.

Wedge, who won the Stayers’ Hurdle aboard Lisnagar Oscar at last year’s Festival, said: “It’s a hard blow to take, but it’s the way it is.

“I had the fall on Friday and stupidly rode on Saturday, not knowing it was that serious. I went to hospital on Sunday morning and then I went down to London on Monday for an MRI scan, which revealed the injury.

“It’s going to be hard, missing out on riding Silver Streak, but it will still be fantastic to watch him run and see how he goes.

“I’ll most definitely be cheering him on.”

Wedge (left) with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow
Wedge (left) with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow (David Davies/PA)

Wedge now faces a race against time to ride at Aintree next month, where his potential mounts include Randox Grand National contender Secret Reprieve, who could bid to follow up his Welsh Grand National success in the world’s most famous steeplechase.

He added: “The doctors reckon I could be back in around a month.

“I’m looking at being back for Aintree, if it’s possible. That’s the aim.”

Chepstow hero Adam Wedge planning weekend return

Welsh National hero Adam Wedge hopes to be back in the saddle by the weekend as he takes a few days off to recover from an up-and-down day at Chepstow.

Before teaming up with fellow Welshman Evan Williams on Secret Reprieve to justify 5-2 favouritism in the big race, Wedge had suffered two crunching falls.

First Grade One winner Esprit Du Large fell heavily at the last in the handicap chase won by Cepage, then in the following contest Clyne came down three out when still in contention.

Wedge had to be patched up to take his mount in the big race, but victory never looked in any doubt, meaning a second home success in two seasons following that of Potters Corner for Christian Williams last term.

“I’m still a bit sore, so I’m just going to take a day or two to let the body recover a little bit,” said Wedge.

“I think my adrenaline kept me going through the day – but it would have taken a lot to keep me out of the National. Fingers crossed I’ll be back for the weekend.

“It’s a fantastic feeling to have won it, it’s unbelievable and it was a great training performance by Evan to get the horse there in such great condition.

“He’s got a little bit of class about him, he does travel very well and for a novice going into a race like that, he did everything fantastic.

“He jumped very well and hopefully it’s the sign of a very nice career to come. He’s very inexperienced really, a lot of people forget he’s still a novice.

“I was so pleased for Evan, he’s having a great year what with a Grade One as well, it’s a sign of how well he knows his horses to get the best out of them.”

Secret Reprieve lands Welsh National gamble in style

Secret Reprieve provided proud Welshman Evan Williams with victory in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

An impressive winner of the Welsh Grand National Trial at the Monmouthshire circuit in early December, the Flemensfirth gelding had been strongly fancied for the big race itself ever since.

And while the three-mile-five-furlong contest had to be abandoned due to a waterlogged track over the Christmas period, he was still allowed to line up under a 4lb penalty, meaning he was 8lb well-in at the weights.

With just 10st 1lb on his back, Secret Reprieve was all the rage as the 5-2 favourite, and his supporters will have had few concerns throughout the stamina-sapping feature, with the lightly-raced seven-year-old always travelling strongly and jumped accurately.

Despite having suffered two heavy falls earlier in the day, Adam Wedge cut a confident figure in the saddle rounding the home turn – and while The Two Amigos refused to go down without a fight and made a race of it, the market leader proved three lengths too strong.

Just as he was in 2019, top-weight Yala Enki was third.

Victory was going to a Welsh-trained runner for the second season in succession, with Potters Corner, trained by Christian Williams, becoming the first Welsh winner since Norther in 1965 when triumphing last term.

Evan Williams said: “It’s more relief than anything else, which is a terrible thing to say. It means an awful lot to us.

“It’s nice tension to have (being the favourite) – that’s what we do it for. That was never a worry as far as I was concerned.

“The worry came today when Adam was on the floor. They patched him up absolutely unbelievably well and Adam deserves the plaudits – how he can ride after having two crunching falls like he’s had, I just take my hat off to him.

“The horse is a joy to deal with. You can never be confident when you’re going over this sort of trip, but in the pit of my stomach I though it would bring out further improvement and it looked to me like he galloped right through the line.”

Evan Williams (left) with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow
Evan Williams (left) with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow (David Davies/PA)

The Llancarfan-based trainer confirmed afterwards that Secret Reprieve’s girth had broken in the latter part of the race.

He added: “It’s mad how it works out. After the day ‘Wedgey’ has had, I was thinking ‘oh no, he can’t jump the last and then Adam falls off’. It must have happened later on in the race.

“You’ve got the girth with two buckles, which basically keeps the saddle on. Then you have an over-girth with elastic on that goes round the whole lot and without that, Adam would have fallen off.”

Adam Wedge celebrates his Welsh Grand National success
Adam Wedge celebrates his Welsh Grand National success (David Davies/PA)

The winner received quotes of around 25-1 for the Grand National at Aintree in April, but Williams warned he is not certain to head for the world’s most famous steeplechase.

He said: “The race that really comes to mind is the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. That is only because he’s a novice.

“The reality is that the Grand National would be higher on my list, but I’ll have to talk to Mr and Mrs Rucker (owners) and see which way they want to go and see how the horse comes out of this race.”