Tag Archive for: Chepstow

Double delight for Fergal O’Brien at Chepstow

Fergal O’Brien closed in on a century of winners for the season courtesy of a double at a rain-soaked Chepstow with Ask A Honey Bee and Mahon Point.

Currently fourth in the championship which is decided on prize-money, only champion trainer Paul Nicholls has trained more winners this season.

Fittingly for O’Brien, who has spent most of his career based near the Cotswolds, he won the race named in honour of Dai Burchell, who hails from nearby Ebbw Vale.

The Happy Retirement Dai Burchell Novices’ Hurdle looked a decent event on paper with the front three pulling well clear – but it was O’Brien’s Mahon Point (9-4) who got the better of 11-10 favourite Dom Of Mary.

Winning connections of Mahon Point with the retiring Dai Burchell (centre)
Winning connections of Mahon Point with the retiring Dai Burchell (centre) (Adam Davy/PA)

“He’s a nice horse and it’s lovely to support English pointers, he came from Francesca Nimmo’s and Charlie Poste’s yard,” said O’Brien.

“He’s for a great group of owners who have had horses with me since the beginning and this looks like a nice one.

“They’ve been patient, he was third in a bumper and today was good again. The second was entered in the Tolworth and the third horse (Crossing Lines) ran a very good race on his first run for two years.

“To win the race named after Dai is great. I’ve had a couple off Dai and he’s had a couple off us and everything he has got he improved and got a win out of.

“He’s a very good trainer but forgetting that, you can only speak as you find and he’s always been a lovely man to me, very good to talk to and a genuinely nice man. I wish him all the best in his retirement.”

Another to pay tribute to 84-year-old Burchell was former jockey turned trainer Christian Williams, who said: “Dai Burchell probably gave me my last five winners. He is a great man, a wonderful man.

“We got a horse off him last year and won a little race with him, but there was no improvement from his mark from Dai Burchell – we found that out for ourselves. He is as good at the job as anyone and he’s been in the game so long.

“If I am still training at his age, it means I’ve ran a successful business, kept my head above water and supported my family. If I can do what that man has done and stay in the game for that long, it would be great.”

It may not have been straightforward but Ask A Honey Bee landed odds of 1-9
It may not have been straightforward but Ask A Honey Bee landed odds of 1-9 (Adam Davy/PA)

While O’Brien may not have many win at as short a price as Ask A Honey Bee’s 1-9, it was far from straightforward in the three-runner Visit Irish Store Sales With ITM Novices’ Chase.

Paddy Brennan briefly looked under pressure as Captain Cuckoo loomed up, but the favourite’s ability came through in the end.

“It was Neil Jukes, our race planner, who spotted this race, we had no intention of running him,” said O’Brien.

“He’ll be better in a better race where he gets a lead for longer. Thankfully he got the job done, but hand on my heart I would not have been surprised had he got beat – very disappointed, but not surprised.

“You only needed to see how he jumped the last that he had loads left. It might have been ugly, but he got it done.”

Git Maker jumps the last under Gavin Sheehan
Git Maker jumps the last under Gavin Sheehan (Adam Davy/PA)

Jamie Snowden’s Git Maker (9-4 favourite) came from the more traditional Irish pointing fields and looks a nice prospect following his win in division one of the Play Coral Racing Super Series For Free Maiden Hurdle.

“He’s a lovely young horse. He quickened up twice today, he really lengthens and that is always nice to see,” said Snowden.

“I think the first division looked a better race on paper and the first two pulled nicely clear.

“I think we’ll just go quietly this year before going chasing next year, that’s got to be the plan, he’s a staying chaser of the future. It’s a cliché but what he does this season is a bonus.”

Git Maker beat Anthony Honeyball’s Marco Island, but Honeyball won the second division with Hatos (5-2).

Thomas expresses Grand National doubts about Iwilldoit

Sam Thomas feels that there is only a “small chance” that Coral Welsh Grand National winner Iwilldoit will line up in the Grand National at Aintree in April.

The just-turned eight-year-old gave the former jump jockey the biggest win of his training career thus far when taking the Chepstow marathon eight days ago.

The nine-length victory in the extended three-and-three-quarter-mile event was the third win in four starts over fences for the Diamond Racing Ltd-owned gelding.

The Lisvane-based Thomas feels Iwilldoit is still too inexperienced to tackle the Aintree showpiece and any plans to celebrate his Welsh National success have been put on hold.

Thomas said: “It has been a bit of a whirlwind. We haven’t had a big celebration yet, but we will have to plan a get-together with everyone involved, but in this industry nothing ever stops. We haven’t had the time to celebrate just yet.

“Iwilldoit is up 9lb to a mark of 149 now. He is absolutely fine and has come out of the race fine, and we haven’t made any plans whatsoever really.

“We will have a chat with the owners and make a bit of a gameplan, really.”

Thomas knows exactly what it takes to win on the biggest stage, with Cheltenham Gold Cup success aboard Denman among several top-class victories in the saddle.

And the proud Welshman feels that the Grand National might come too soon at this stage in Iwilldoit’s career.

“There is a small possibility he might go for the Grand National, but I would imagine that might be next season if anything,” said Thomas.

“He is still fairly inexperienced and no disrespect to Chepstow fences – they are nice fences – but our horse just has a jumping style where he just flicks through his fences and I’m not sure he will be quite ready for the test of the bigger fences at Aintree just yet.

“We have got lots of options, though. That’s the main thing.”

Iwilldoit is currently a 20-1 chance with Paddy Power for the Grand National.

Thomas added he is is hopeful Stolen Silver can give him another big Saturday winner at Wincanton this weekend.

Fourth to Edwardstone in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time, Thomas is set to drop the seven-year-old back into handicap company in the Kingwell Lodge Handicap Chase over two and a half miles.

“We have Stolen Silver in a two-and-a-half-mile handicap at Wincanton, he is likely to run and fingers crossed he will get back to winning ways,” said Thomas.

Iwilldoit gives Sam Thomas landmark success in Welsh National

Former jockey Sam Thomas gained the biggest win of his burgeoning training career when Iwilldoit landed a gamble under Stan Sheppard in the Coral Welsh Grand National in a gruelling, stamina-sapping test at Chepstow.

Backed into 13-2 from 12-1 on the morning of the race, the eight-year-old went to the front eight fences from home and ground down the opposition in the extended three-and-three-quarter-mile Grade Three marathon in which only five of the 20 starters finished.

Owned by Diamond Racing, Iwilldoit opened his campaign with victory in the trial here over an extended two miles and seven furlongs earlier this month.

Winning trainer Sam Thomas (left) and jockey Stan Sheppard
Winning trainer Sam Thomas (left) and jockey Stan Sheppard (David Davies/PA)

The race itself – being run behind closed doors for the second successive year due to covid restrictions – suffered two false starts with Harry Cobden keen to get a good position on Highland Hunter and they finally got away from a standing start at the third attempt.

Iwilldoit was keen early, but had plenty of cover and was allowed his head a long way from home, taking over from the pace-setting Ramses De Teillee.

His jumping proved foot-perfect throughout and only two horses really mattered three from home, with Iwilldoit jumping with aplomb and outstaying Highland Hunter and Cobden to record a nine-length success.

Thomas said: “I can’t put it into words. I can’t believe how emotional I am.

“I didn’t dare think for a minute that we were going to win. I know we had a chance, but it is incredible.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed by the whole experience, if I’m honest.

“It is tremendous to keep it in Wales. I am a proud Welshman and it hasn’t really sunk in. It is what dreams are made of, really.

“It is very bizarre being stood here in an empty stand with no crowd. It just doesn’t feel right, really.

“I have enjoyed every minute of that race, but my family should be here, the rest of the owners should be here, and it is a very sad day for racing, really. It just doesn’t feel right – 40 minutes away in Bristol there is a full stadium of people watching rugby. It is crazy.”

He added: “Big targets keep your eye on the ball and it is what gets you out of bed every day.

“I have a fantastic team at home and this is a team effort.

Iwilldoit on his way to winning the Welsh National
Iwilldoit on his way to winning the Welsh National (David Davies/PA)

“When he hit the front down the back and got into his rhythm, I thought all he had to do was stay on his feet really and he’d keep running is race.

“Stan gave him a lovely ride – it is a lot of pressure for a young jockey, but I’m delighted for him.

“He loved those conditions and bottom weight in those sort of races obviously helps in soft ground. Hopefully, I will be able to enjoy it a little more later.”

Porticello shines in Finale Hurdle

Porticello turned what looked a strong renewal of the Grade One Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle into a procession at Chepstow.

With stamina the emphasis on rain-softened soft ground and with the final hurdle omitted, leaving a three-furlong run-in, it proved tough going for many of the 11 runners.

Yet the Gary Moore-trained Porticello, who had finished runner-up to Knight Salute in a muddling Summit Juvenile Hurdle at Doncaster, jumped to the front at the penultimate flight and drew readily clear to give the Horsham yard their first Grade One success over hurdles.

His hurdling, which had been a little indifferent at Doncaster, was better here, although he made a slight mistake of the fourth of the seven flights of hurdles under Jamie Moore.

The strapping son of Sholokhov was keen early on, and his rider did well to hang on to him. After settling him, he got into a good rhythm and readily drew clear after jumping the penultimate flight.

The 100-30 chance had eight and a half lengths to spare from Saint Segal, with Forever William a further three-quarters of a length back in third.

The 9-4 favourite Forever Blessed was pulled up before the penultimate flight with Sean Bowen’s saddle having slipped when he did well to stay aboard after being squeezed for room on the rail approaching three out.

Porticello shone under Jamie Moore
Porticello shone under Jamie Moore (David Davies/PA)

The winning jockey told Sky Sports Racing: “I can’t believe dad hasn’t had a Grade One hurdle winner to be honest. We have hit the crossbar a few times.

“I was not mad about running him today due to the quick back-up from Doncaster, but dad and Ollie Harris, the owner, were keen to have a go and it has proved the right call.

“He is a lovely big horse and I just thought we could mind him a bit this year, but they are here to race and we’ve won a Grade One, so we will all enjoy that.

“When he is in tight, he smashes through the hurdles, but he will be better when he jumps a fence.”

Moore added: “I got a nice position and we had quite a smooth run around. When he hit the front, he was having a bit of a look around and he was probably looking for another hurdle.

“He will be better when he is a five- or six-year-old, as he is a chaser. He has gone on that ground today, but he is equally effective on good ground. I mucked up at Doncaster, as I went too slow on him. If I had gone hard at Doncaster, I might not have had a horse for today, though.”

Moore senior said: “It was a good performance, but a lot of things were in his favour today, which helped. But he can only do what he has done.

“He is a big horse and the hurdles just get in the way. He doesn’t treat them with much respect.

“As for another run, it depends if we go to Cheltenham or not. It is not the be all and end all for me. He is big horse with a future, but we’ll see how he comes out of the race today.

“Jamie was not keen on running him. He’s such an expert for telling me not to run!

“I wouldn’t know when or where he runs next, whether it is the Victor Ludorum, as he needs the experience, I don’t know what else there is for him.

“He is horse that is one for the future. I wouldn’t put him away, as they are a long time in the stable.

“Apparently this is my first Grade One win over hurdles. What a crap trainer – I’m 65 years of age and that is my first Grade One over hurdles!”

Native River sights set on Welsh National repeat

He may be turning 12 in a few days, but such is Native River’s class he will still give 10lb and more to the whole of the Coral Welsh National field at Chepstow.

One of four previous winners in the race, Colin Tizzard’s 2018 Gold Cup hero loves nothing more than a stamina test in the mud and that is what he will get in Wales once again.

In his final season, it would be a famous victory for a popular horse should he pull it off.

Stablemate Elegant Escape, last year’s winner Secret Reprieve and Christian Williams’ Potters Corner are the other runners to have tasted glory in that marathon test before.

Welsh National top weight Native River
Welsh National top weight Native River (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Garth Broome, Native River’s owner, does not see his welter burden proving a problem.

“We are looking forward to it,” he said.

“He used to carry more than that weight before. It is not necessarily the weight he has got, it is more about what the others are carrying.

“He likes Chepstow and the distance, so if the forecast rain comes we’ll be happy. He will always run his race and is as genuine as they come.”

It has been an unusual preparation for Secret Reprieve, who has not been seen since last year’s heroics.

It has been a mixed season for trainer Evan Williams, with big-race successes for the likes of Dans Le Vent, Coole Cody and Ansaam. But his team have had to cope with the loss of yard favourite Silver Streak.

Secret Reprieve winning the race last season
Secret Reprieve winning the race last season (David Davies/PA)

“We’ve got some very, very smart horses and we’ve got a lot of the lesser lights running good races, people cling on to those big Saturday wins, they’re the ones that get you noticed,” said Williams.

“I suppose this fellow’s (Secret Reprieve) work at home is good against horses which have been running very, very big races in big Saturday races.

“If it happens again, fantastic, if it doesn’t, as long as we come back in one piece then I’ll be delighted.”

Paul Nicholls has won the race as a trainer and a jockey, but not since L’Aventure in 2005. He thinks he has a big chance this year with Highland Hunter.

Highland Hunter (right) winning the Betfair Exchange London National Handicap Chase
Highland Hunter (right) winning the Betfair Exchange London National Handicap Chase (Steven Paston/PA)

“It was a pleasant surprise (when) he won at Sandown as I was using it as a prep race for this. I thought he would blow up two out, but he got his second wind and stayed on well,” said Nicholls

“He carried 11st 12lb over three-mile-five there so he’s a really strong stayer. The softer the ground the better and he must go there with a big chance.

“He went up 4lb but that’s neither here nor there in my eyes, I don’t think 4lb would be stopping him if he runs to his best.”

Nicholls also runs 2019 runner-up Truckers Lodge.

Sandy Thomson sends Hill Sixteen down from his Lambden base after just losing out in the Becher Chase over the Aintree fences.

“It was a hell of a performance in the Becher Chase and he never really got the credit he deserved,” said Thomson.

“It was an amazing performance to pull that out of the bag when you consider where he’d been and what he had done.

“I knew he was well and hoped he would run a nice race, but to perform like that was beyond our wildest dreams. He is still technically 2lb well in.

“We are delighted to be going and we are as confident as we can be. I don’t know that rain will be absolutely necessary for him.”

Sam Thomas’ Iwilldoit was a convincing winner of the Welsh Grand National Trial earlier in the month, prevailing by 24 lengths from Colorado Doc over a trip just short of three miles.

The eight-year-old was given a 4lb penalty for the win which left him 6lb wrong at the weights, but as the handicapper subsequently raised him 10lb he runs off his correct mark.

“It (the trial win) wasn’t a great surprise, he certainly showed us what he can do,” the trainer told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’s always been a good jumper, he’s a pleasure to ride at home – he’s a bit of a natural, so it was a surprise to see him do what he did at Kelso when he nearly fell at the first. It was just a bit of a write-off that day.

“Like any sort of stayer, once you get them into their comfort zone they can maintain that gallop, I’ve no doubt he’ll get the trip.

“Native River brings a high level of class to the race, and we’ve got to step up, we’re aware of that. But the fact we’ve got 10st is a real bonus. For a horse who likes to bowl along from somewhere near the front, to have a nice low weight, he’ll think he’s loose.

“It will be great if it comes off, it’s been the plan for a little while.”

Peter Fahey’s The Big Dog travels from County Kildare, with Scotland represented by Lucinda Russell and her Scottish National winner Mighty Thunder.

Also well-fancied is Venetia Williams’ Hold That Taught, who began his season in good form when taking a three-and-a-quarter-mile handicap at Carlisle in October.

Welsh National repeat in Native River’s sights

Native River will make one last bid to win the Coral Welsh Grand National on Monday, as the former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner will be retired at the end of the season, according to connections.

One of the most popular horses in training, the 11-year-old will tackle handicap company for the first time since winning the Chepstow showpiece five years ago off a rating of 155.

Dropped 4lb for his runner-up effort to Protektorat in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree last time, Native River will line up on a hefty mark of 166.

Broome said: “Provided we get the rain they forecast, we should be going.

“We thought we’d run him as there was nothing really until the Cotswold Chase. He’s fit and well and he ran a good race in the Many Clouds, but he was outclassed by an up-and-coming horse.

“He’s now falling between two stools, between graded races and handicaps. If you do go for a handicap, you’ll be carrying a big weight.

“It is just a bit unfortunate for him that they have dropped him 4lb and he has to run off 166. It doesn’t help.

“But he likes Chepstow and hopefully the ground conditions and the distance are all pluses for him.

“He is very well in himself and while it is not ideal, he doesn’t have too many options, but he always runs his race.”

Bonanza Boy and Mountainous are the only two horses to have won two Welsh Grand Nationals in the last 32 years, but this will be Native River’s last attempt to become a dual victor.

Broome added: “After that, he won’t be going for the Gold Cup or anything.

“It will all depend on what the ground is in the spring as to whether we decide how long we carry on. Obviously it is going to be his last season.”

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.”

Native River one of four looking for a second Welsh National

Top-weight Native River heads 30 horses confirmed for the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on Sunday.

Colin Tizzard’s 11-year-old took the prize in 2016 and the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero is one of four past winners of the Welsh National among the confirmations.

The others are stablemate Elegant Escape (2018), Christian Williams’ Potters Corner (2019) and Secret Reprieve last winter.

Potters Corner ran his best race for some time when only beaten a nose by Diesel D’Allier in a cross-country chase at Cheltenham earlier this month.

Williams hopes there is plenty of rain before the race and has the Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase Final at Sandown on January 8 as a back-up.

“He seems well and it’s all systems go. He looked back on track at Cheltenham,” said the Glamorgan handler.

“We think he’s well-handicapped now and we’re pleased with him. He’s coming to the boil now. We’re just waiting for some soft ground.

“We’ve got the veterans’ final at Sandown as well so we’ve got two options.”

Truckers Lodge, runner-up in 2019, is one of two possibles for Paul Nicholls along with Highland Hunter.

Others in the mix include Lucinda Russell’s Mighty Thunder, winner of last season’s Scottish Grand National, Tom Lacey’s Kimberlite Candy, Venetia Williams’ pair of Achille and Hold That Taught and the Sam Thomas-trained Iwilldoit, winner of the Welsh National Trial at Chepstow.

David Pipe has left in five – Ramses De Teillee, Via Dolorosa, Abaya Du Mathan, D’Jango and El Paso Wood – and there are two Irish representatives – Peter Fahey’s The Big Dog and the Jessica Harrington-trained Discordantly.

In the Grade One Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle Harry Fry’s unbeaten Forever Blessed, Jane Williams’ Saint Segal and Phil Kirby’s Skycutter are among 16 entries.

Chepstow left counting the cost as Welsh National goes behind closed doors

Chepstow executive director Phil Bell was philosophical following the news the Coral Welsh National will take place without spectators for the second successive year on Monday.

The Welsh government has confirmed all sporting events in Wales will be held behind closed doors from Boxing Day due to the surge in coronavirus cases.

It was a decision Chepstow had feared would be made in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

“In the last 48 hours it was leaning towards closed doors so I was beginning to get my head around it,” Bell told Sky Sports Racing.

“At the weekend it looked like there was a possibility of reduced crowds, maybe 4,000, but the mood music yesterday was going in the wrong direction and that’s what has happened.”

More than 6,000 tickets had been sold in advance of this year’s meeting, but it will now once again take place without a crowd.

“We’ve had up to 12,000 people for the Welsh National meeting in recent years, an average of around 10,000. Hospitality had been sold out for about a month,” Bell went on.

“Most of the racecourse was ready to go. We’ve been having marquees erected for the last three weeks plus all the portable toilets, outside bars and food outlets.

“It’s been a month’s worth of hard work in terms of putting the site ready which is now going to go to waste.

“The one thing about the financial impact is we are talking to the Welsh Government about a compensation package. We’ve been asked to supply our cost and revenue losses to them and that’s going into the mix for a decision.

“It’s an expensive race meeting to put on. We’ve spent £40,000 on marquees alone – one small element of the event. That’s a help they are aware there are significant losses involved.”

Welsh economy Minister Vaughan Gething announced the new measures for indoor and outdoor sporting events in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Gething said: “Sporting events over the Christmas period are one of the big highlights of the year. Unfortunately, the new Omicron variant is a significant development in the pandemic and could cause a large number of infections.

Secret Reprieve on his way to winning last year's Coral Welsh Grand National
Secret Reprieve on his way to winning last year’s Coral Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)

“We need to do everything we can to protect people’s health and control the spread of this awful virus.

“Throughout the pandemic we have followed scientific and public health advice to keep people safe. The advice is clear – we need to act now in response to the threat of Omicron. We are giving people as much notice of these decisions as we can.

“Crowds will come back as soon as possible. We want everyone to be here to enjoy their favourite sports.”

Traditionally staged on December 27, the Welsh Grand National is the highlight of the year at Chepstow.

With the course waterlogged 12 months ago, last season’s renewal was rescheduled to take place in early January, but there were no paying customers on course to witness the impressive victory of the Evan Williams-trained Secret Reprieve.

In Scotland, officials at Musselburgh have announced the New Year’s Day meeting at the East Lothian track will take place behind closed doors.

The decision was taken following the Scottish Government’s decision to limit outdoor sporting events to a maximum of 500 people with table service only.

Musselburgh racecourse
Musselburgh racecourse (Jane Barlow/PA)

Musselburgh general manager Bill Farnsworth said: “It is very unfortunate as this is one of our best and biggest racedays and one of our most popular, attended by a sell-out crowd.

“However, we all must play our part in keeping people safe and in light of the latest Government guidance on the Omicron variant, we feel the responsible decision is to make this a ‘BCD’ event with only annual members, horse owners, trainers and staff in attendance.

“On a positive note, we hope that the restrictions will break the spread of the Omicron variant so that we can look forward to the Scottish Festival Trials Weekend on February 5 and 6.”

He added: “All ticket holders for the cancelled racedays on January 1 and 3 will be able to transfer to future race days or will receive a full refund. Racecourse staff will endeavour to process all transfers and refunds as quickly as possible.”

Welsh Grand National to take place behind closed doors

The Coral Welsh Grand National will take place without spectators for the second successive season at Chepstow on Monday.

The Welsh government has confirmed all sporting events in Wales will be held behind closed doors from Boxing Day due to the surge in coronavirus cases.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething announced the new measures for indoor and outdoor sporting events in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Gething said: “Sporting events over the Christmas period are one of the big highlights of the year. Unfortunately, the new Omicron variant is a significant development in the pandemic and could cause a large number of infections.

“We need to do everything we can to protect people’s health and control the spread of this awful virus.

“Throughout the pandemic we have followed scientific and public health advice to keep people safe. The advice is clear – we need to act now in response to the threat of Omicron. We are giving people as much notice of these decisions as we can.

“Crowds will come back as soon as possible. We want everyone to be here to enjoy their favourite sports.”

Traditionally staged on December 27, the Welsh Grand National is the highlight of the year at Chepstow.

Secret Reprieve on his way to winning last year's Coral Welsh Grand National
Secret Reprieve on his way to winning last year’s Coral Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)

With the course waterlogged 12 months ago, last season’s renewal was rescheduled to take place in early January, but there were no paying customers on course to witness the impressive victory of the Evan Williams-trained Secret Reprieve.

More than 6,000 tickets have been sold in advance of this year’s meeting, but it will now once again take place without a crowd.

Chepstow Racecourse posted on Twitter: “Following the Welsh Government’s announcement, fixtures until mid-January will be run behind closed doors, without spectators, including the Coral Welsh Grand National. We’ll be contacting impacted customers very soon.”

Fry admits defeat in bid to get Ask Me Early to Chepstow

Ask Me Early has been scratched from the Coral Welsh Grand National following a heavy schooling fall at Harry Fry’s yard on Wednesday.

A three-time novice chase winner last term, the grey found himself leading the market for the Chepstow showpiece on December 27 after two hurdle victories this season.

However, the seven-year-old came down heavily when having a routine schooling session and jockey Sean Bowen needed to be checked over in hospital.

“Unfortunately we have have lost the race against time to run Ask Me Early in the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on December 27,” Fry said on his website.

“While it is bitterly disappointing that he misses out on such a big target I knew we faced an uphill struggle to get him there from the moment he took a horrible fall with Sean Bowen over our schooling fences on Wednesday.

“It was a huge relief to see horse and rider get to their feet. But you could see immediately it was serious and it wouldn’t be fair to send Ask Me Early to Chepstow, despite the best efforts of our vet and physio.

“His welfare comes first and after discussions with the Dare family and Sean we are in agreement that he needs more time to recover.”

Sponsors Coral now make last year’s winner Secret Reprieve the 5-1 favourite from 6-1, ahead of Highland Hunter and The Big Dog, who are both on 6-1.

“Ask Me Early’s unfortunate absence from the Coral Welsh National leaves last season’s winner Secret Reprieve as clear favourite for back-to-back ‘home’ wins in the race, with Highland Hunter and The Big Dog leading the English and Irish challenge for Wales’ biggest contest,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

Orbys Legend provides Hobbs and O’Brien with Silver Trophy gold

Orbys Legend capped a hugely successful meeting for trainer Philip Hobbs with a promising victory in the Wasdell Group Silver Trophy at Chepstow.

Hobbs, who had provided the first and second in the Grade Two Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at the same track 24 hours earlier, was also completing a double – as was jockey Tom O’Brien – after Masters Legacy’s last-gasp success in the Geoffrey Broomhall Memorial Handicap Hurdle.

As well as augmenting Hobbs’ fine form at the start of the core jumps season, Orbys Legend provided a glimpse of what may well be to come from himself too.

On his fifth rules start, the five-year-old was posting his third victory – and although he had just a length to spare from the staying-on Didtheyleaveuoutto at the line, by then O’Brien was easing down with the race already well won.

Orbys Legend tracked the pace set by eventual third Amour De Nuit, before challenging in the straight and moving six lengths clear by the time he jumped last flight in the Grade Three feature.

O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing: “He’s an exciting prospect for the season ahead.

“He seemed OK on this ground, but it is good to know he has handled softer – and I’m sure that ground is coming.

“He’s lovely, uncomplicated, straightforward – I chatted to (former stable jockey) Dicky (Johnson) just before the race, and he said he stays.

“So when I was at the bottom of the straight and in a good position, I let him go – and he did stay.”

Tea Clipper signalled his potential too, with an encouraging success on his debut over fences in the Listed Dunraven Windows Novices’ Chase.

Tom Lacey’s imposing six-year-old was decisively on top in the end after a fine tussle with his fellow 11-4 joint-favourite Fidelio Vallis.

Harry Cobden had Paul Nicholls’ runner-up out in front from an early stage, jumping well and putting the emphasis on fluency too for his  four rivals.

But Tea Clipper jumped equally well for Stan Sheppard and was always close enough, even as Fidelio Vallis upped the ante into the straight.

Tea Clipper, successful in the Silver Trophy on this card 12 months ago and a Larkhill point-to-point winner on his sole start between the flags in 2019, was almost upsides at the last and took control on the run-in to seal the deal by three lengths.

Sheppard said: “He won a restricted point-to-point as a four-year-old – that was his first run over fences today, and he’s done it really well.

“He made one or two mistakes, and there’s probably a tiny bit of improvement left on that still I hope.

“He’s always schooled very well. He’s very straightforward, an absolute dream.

“It was an ideal race, only five runners, so we always had a bit of room.”

Magistrato was a convincing winner of the opening Champion Hats Juvenile Hurdle, kickstarting a double for Nicholls and Cobden on his stable debut.

Paul Nicholls claimed two winners at Chepstow on Saturday
Paul Nicholls claimed two winners at Chepstow on Saturday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

In a race the multiple champion trainer won last year with Hell Red, the well-touted Magistrato put down an early marker for the Triumph Hurdle division – leading throughout under Cobden and easily seeing off the challenge of runner-up Rocky Man in the straight to win by 12 lengths as the 4-7 favourite.

Nicholls was very happy with what he had seen.

“I’m delighted with that,” he said.

“To start like that is good, (and) I’d say the first two are probably decent horses.

“They went a real good gallop, and he stayed on strongly. Mentally and physically, there’s a lot to look forward to with him.”

Allmankind ran well but had to settle for third
Allmankind ran well but had to settle for third (Mike Egerton/PA)

Allmankind was sent off a well-backed favourite to also make a winning start to the campaign, but Dan Skelton’s Grade One-winning chaser had to settle for a close third as Masters Legacy got up late in a blanket finish to deny him.

The 11-1 winner was well off the pace set by top weight Allmankind and Highway One O Two – and in the straight both Galice Macalo and then eventual runner-up Valentino Dancer put down big challenges.

But it was Masters Legacy, still only fourth over the last, who arrived late on the run-in to swamp them all and prevail by a head.

O’Brien said: “I don’t think Masters Legacy was right last season, and he only had two runs.

“He settled (here), he jumped. I wasn’t confident at the bottom of the straight, because I know he’s kind of one-paced … but they went a right good gallop up front, and it allowed me back into it.”

Chirico Vallis was a hugely-determined all-the-way winner of the Native River Handicap Chase, by a head from admirable runner-up Kitty’s Light.

Richie McLernon had Neil Mulholland’s charge in front from the outset, and they repelled all challengers up the straight.

It was a proper tussle after the last, though, with Kitty’s Light – who perhaps headed the winner briefly but was just headed on the line.

Paint The Dream provided trainer Fergal O’Brien and jockey Connor Brace with a near 10-length win in the John Ayres Memorial Handicap Chase – and 4-6 favourite Timeforatune stayed unbeaten to complete Nicholls’ and Cobden’s first and last-race double in the Nigel And Sharon Support Injured Jockeys Fund Open NH Flat Race.

Camprond shows benefit of experience to win Persian War

Camprond capitalised on his handicapping experience to claim a comfortable success in the Grade Two Unibet Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow.

The French-bred five-year-old was consistently placed in high-quality handicap contests over the summer, including a third-placed finish in the fiercely-competitive Grade Three Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in May.

He comfortably handled this move up in class, by a convincing five lengths at 5-1 for Aidan Coleman and Philip Hobbs – with the trainer enjoying a one-two in the race as favourite Luttrell Lad took the runner-up spot.

“He’s very experienced for this grade,” Coleman told Sky Sports Racing.

“He was placed in the Swinton and a good handicap at Aintree – big field races,.

“It really suited him, because they went a good even gallop there, and it didn’t really ride like a novice – it rode like more of a handicap.

“It played to his strengths – I was able to send him on good and early, and he jumped really well up the straight and put the race to bed.

“He’s a handicapper in all but name – so he used his experience, basically.

“He’s run in three or four handicaps, and he ran well in all of them. There’s nothing wrong with being a handicapper at that level – having been at Aintree and (the) Swinton, to come to a nine-runner novice here is a lot easier.”

Paul Nicholls’ Grade Two bumper winner Knappers Hill maintained his unbeaten record when scoring on his debut over hurdles in the Andy Stewart Racing’s Great Friend Novices’ Hurdle.

Knappers Hill after winning the Weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race
Knappers Hill after winning the Weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (David Davies/PA)

The five-year-old took three National Hunt Flat contests last season, culminating with the Weatherbys bumper at Aintree in April, and duly added this length success on his switch to a new discipline.

“He’ll come on a ton for it – he was very, very green,” jockey Harry Cobden said of the 2-13 favourite.

“Down to the first he barely saw what he was doing, he wasn’t really concentrating and galloped straight through it – but his jumping got better and better.

“I could have nicked 10 lengths at the top of the hill, but I decided to hold on to him and get him to learn a bit and to pop – he’ll be a lot more straightforward next time anyway.

“I was always confident I had enough horse there. I hadn’t even touched him today – he’ll come on a lot, he’s so smart.”

Nicholls added: “It’s a starting point for the season.

“He’s a work in progress – he doesn’t want to be put in the deep end too soon.

“I’ll probably run him at Wincanton on November 6 in another novices’ hurdle they have that day and then perhaps look at something better after that. He’ll just improve again and get better as the season goes on – he’ll relax a bit and jump better.”

The Tom Malone Bloodstock Novices’ Chase went the way of Kim Bailey’s Does He Know, who was steered to a five and a half-length success at 4-1 by David Bass.

The six-year-old made a winning start to last season when completing a hat-trick in the Hyde Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – but then ran out in Newbury’s Grade One Challow Hurdle after becoming unruly in the paddock.

He was then fifth in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, before returning for this successful seasonal comeback.

“He’s a very nice horse – we came here thinking we had every chance,” said Bailey.

“We started really well last year. It all went pear-shaped in the Challow Hurdle when he was a nightmare in the paddock – he nearly killed me, and Ben Pauling saved the day, and he then ran through the wing.

“We ended up going to Cheltenham, where he ran a very good race … he had good form last season, and he’s a point-to-point winner from Yorkshire, which is great.”

Michael Scudamore’s Some Chaos claimed a three-length victory in the Professor Caroline Tisdall Supports Heroic Jumpers Veterans’ Handicap Chase.

The 10-year-old jumped well throughout to cross the line three lengths ahead of Vivas, at 9-2 under Ben Jones.

“For whatever reason he didn’t finish his races off last year,” said Scudamore.

“He never made a noise or anything like that. But we thought something was wrong – so as seems to be the fashion nowadays, we gave him a wind op.

“He’s back to a winning mark, or just below a winning mark. Ben’s given him a lovely ride – it was fantastic.”

Allmankind’s Chepstow return is signpost to Old Roan Chase

Allmankind will revert to hurdling at Chepstow when he makes his seasonal debut in the Geoffrey Broomhall Memorial Handicap Hurdle.

Dan Skelton’s five-year-old was a Grade One hurdles winner over this course and distance, before successfully graduating to fences last season – successful again at the top level, and then twice in Grade Two company either side of a fourth-placed effort in the Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Skelton is aiming Allmankind at Aintree’s Old Roan Chase at the end of this month and is keen to ensure he has Saturday’s run under his belt beforehand.

“I can’t find a chase to run him in before the Old Roan, so we need to get a run into him,” said the Alcester trainer.

Allmankind winning the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase
Allmankind winning the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He will handle a bit of decent ground, but I’d have to make sure it is that.

“He will need the run, not because he is not fit – I have done as much as I can with him – it’s just that he is a heavy horse and he needed the run last year at Cheltenham.

“I remember going to Cheltenham with him last year, telling everyone I thought he would win, but he needed the first run quite badly.

“There’s no point me pretending this year will be different, so a bit of a word of warning there!”

Skelton is also represented on the card in the Grade Three Wasdell Group Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle, by Proschema.

Proschema winning at Wetherby
Proschema winning at Wetherby (Nigel French/PA)

The chestnut was victorious four times – including two jumpers’ bumpers – before his summer break, having improved a stone in the ratings to finish his campaign on 142.

“Proschema goes for the Silver Trophy, and I am very happy with him,” added Skelton in his blog for Ladbrokes.

“This has been the target since he came back in. It’s a great trip and track for him – the ground is really suitable, and I can’t wait to run him.”

Among Proschema’s opponents is Jamie Snowden’s Chapmanshype, a six-time hurdles winner back over timber after a brief spell chasing through the summer.

“He’s got a great strike-rate and win-to-run ratio – he certainly knows how to win his races,” said Snowden.

“He reached the ceiling of his hurdling ability and then won over fences, but unfortunately didn’t really progress over fences.

“Back over hurdles, he ran a good race the last day to finish second off the same handicap mark he’s on now. He’s not handicapped to win, but he should run a nice race.”

Snowden also has a contender in the Listed ​Dunraven Windows Novices’ Chase, courtesy of Kiltealy Briggs.

Jamie Snowden's Chapmanshype
Jamie Snowden’s Chapmanshype (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The seven-year-old was last seen fishing ninth of 21 in the hugely-competitive Paddy Power Plate at the Cheltenham Festival, and retains his novice status having run well without winning over fences last season.

“Kiltealy Briggs is a second-season novice chaser who ran well in a couple of novice chases last year,” added Snowden.

“He’s done very well for the summer, (and) he should improve and be progressive this season.

“This is a nice starting point, but it looks a very competitive race – so hopefully he can blow away the cobwebs and have a decent rest of the season.”

In opposition, Richard Newland’s Captain Tom Cat bids to return to winning form, having racked up a summer hat-trick before finishing fifth in the Grade Three Summer Plate at Market Rasen in July.

“For Captain Tom Cat, this has been the plan for some time,” said Newland.

“We gave him a break after Market Rasen; we’ve brought him back, and he’s trained well.

“We’ll just have to see if he’s up to this level, because it’s a big step up in class, but he’s very consistent and seems to love his jumping.

“I’m very happy with him. The ground is suitable, but it’s obviously stiff competition, so we’ll have to see whether he can deliver.”

Mujtaba makes favourable impression on Chepstow debut

Mujtaba made a successful racecourse bow for William Haggas in the Download The Casumo App Novice Stakes at Chepstow.

Unraced at two, the Dubawi gelding is out of the Group One-winning South African mare Majmu and he had little trouble in beating the 78-rated Rani Of Jhansi by four and a quarter lengths despite unsurprisingly showing signs of greenness.

Given his size and breeding, connections will be hoping he goes on to much better things in the coming months.

“I liked him in the spring but he had a training accident and had to go to Shadwell for the summer,” said Haggas of the 10-11 favourite.

“They gelded him and since he came back he’s been doing OK, I think he’ll improve quite a bit for that – it might have been a poor race, though.

“That’s the mare’s first winner and they’ve all started with me. The first one wasn’t very good, they are always so big, they’re enormous. I’ve got a Frankel, too, who is enormous and hasn’t come into training yet.

“This one is quite a nice horse I think, hopefully we’ll keep him next year and he’ll do well.

“We’ll stay at a mile next time and I think Jim (Crowley) felt 10 furlongs will be fine in time.”

Russco (right) won again at Chepstow
Russco (right) won again at Chepstow (David Davies/PA)

Crowley went on to double up on Donald McCain’s rapidly-improving sprinter Russco (11-4 favourite) in the Casumo Proud To Support British Racing Handicap.

His winning run began at Wolverhampton in June off a mark of 59 under the trainer’s 5lb-claiming daughter Ella.

Russco enjoyed further success off marks of 63 and 70 and he won again here, this time off 73 and minus McCain’s claim.

Joanna Mason had a winner at Sandown on Sunday and was successful again on Archie Watson’s Miquelon (15-2) in the Casumo Horse Racing And Sports Betting Apprentice Handicap.