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It’s Christmas Time In Open Looking Welsh Grand National

The rescheduled Welsh Grand National is without a doubt the feature race for Saturday and whilst many will be filing it under ‘impossible’ I’ll hopefully be able to shed some light on some angles using the brilliant Geegeez Gold as usual.

Pace

There has been no shortage of heavy ground Welsh Grand Nationals in the past so let’s see where the advantage tends to be with regards to pace.

It’s often the case that prominent racers can be favoured over hold up performers over shorter trips but even over this marathon trip it is still an advantage to be nearer the pace.

Win data is fairly limited here but there has been a strong advantage towards those that race prominently with an 11.36% win ratio, clear of front runners who have a 6.67%. Mid division and hold up have win ratios of just 4.29% and 2.67% respectively.

There is much more data in the place strike rates and this time around front runners lead the way in more way than one, they have a place strike rate of 33.33% which is marginally more impressive than prominent racers who have a place strike rate of 31.82%. These ratios drop off dramatically the further back in the field you go with mid division providing just 21.43% and hold ups are just 8%.

As far as market consideration goes, backing prominent racers blind for win purposes has been profitable whilst backing both prominent racers and those that race in mid division has been very profitable from an each way perspective whilst front runners are also slightly in profit. Hold up performers are in a big loss for both win and each way purposes.

With this data in mind the heat map for this race should make interesting reading with those that race just off the pace likely to be seen to best effect.

A possible contested pace here but the jockeys will surely be sensible in this ground and avoid setting a suicidal gallop. Early favourite Secret Reprieve seems likely to be a bit further back than ideal but racing in mid division isn’t a huge disadvantage. Dominatuer is relatively well fancied from the hold up performers and granted the usual riding tactics are employed he could struggle to even place, however he does enjoy Chepstow having won his last two races here.

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The well fancied Springfield Fox is likely to take the field along and the top eight or so runners on the above pace map seem likely to be best placed as far as the course bias goes.

Instant Expert

With such a big field to weigh up and some extreme going and distances on offer here, Instant Expert is a great way to quickly scan through the field and to judge each runner’s suitability to conditions.

The place data is often the best indicator as to what should run well and what shouldn’t. Hurdle form that proves ability to handle this distance or going would also be relevant here so that’s included in the filter.

The going doesn’t look an obvious negative for most of this field although The Hollow Ginge and Vieux Lion Rouge do have questions to answer.

It makes sense to open up the distance range a little as races at similar trips are also relevant here. There is plenty of placed form at this sort of trip but The Two Amigos and Vieux Lion Rouge remain slight questions marks despite some placed form according to Instant Expert whilst Big River, Bobo Mac and Captain Drake certainly have questions to answer having tried this sort of trip before and failed.

We’re going to narrow things significantly here to look at the win data.

Now we are looking at just handicap chases to get the most relevant data. There is still plenty of strong heavy ground form on offer here and the course records of Dominateur and Ramses De Teillee are also noteworthy.

The Two Amigos and Christmas In April are the only runners to have won more than once in this distance range whilst big field handicap form is fairly thin on the ground with only three runners here recording wins. Even if you look at wins across all races and codes only four runners have a 16+ runner race win (Secret Reprieve is the additional runner to have won in a 16+ runner field having beaten 15 runners in a novice hurdle here at Chepstow previously).

Odds

You’d think such big field races that have a habit of being run in atrocious conditions would have plenty of shocks but picking the winner of this in recent years hasn’t been the challenge it could have been.

Eight of the last ten winners of this have started the race at 10/1 or shorter. Obviously we don’t know exactly which horses are going to go off at what prices at this stage but this is clearly a race where the form book stands up and the chances are one of those in the first six or seven in the betting are going to be triumphant once again.

The Formbook

So with this race being less of a lottery than it could be let’s delve more into the form.

It’s quite easy to see why Secret Reprieve is the warm favourite in this race. He carries a 4lb penalty for winning a course handicap by 12 lengths last time out (The Two Amigos was 2nd). He’s lightly raced, open to more improvement and has won both his starts on heavy ground. He does have to prove himself over this trip though and his sire is just 2 from 42 at this distance so he’s short enough with those doubts in mind.

Springfield Fox was noted as being the likely front runner in this contest but he too has to prove himself over this sort of test. Rider Sean Bowen has a 21.88% strike rate here at Chepstow over the past five years and he’s produced a WIN PL of 45.25 so he should be relied upon to get the fractions right from the front but his stamina will be going into unchartered waters here.

Truckers Lodge hasn’t run since unseating his rider back in October and that is potentially a longer break than you’d want heading into this but surely Paul Nicholls knows what is right for the horse. He was 2nd to Potters Corner in this a year ago off a similar break so there shouldn’t be any concern over the absence and there are certainly no question marks about the conditions. That race worked out well too but in helping frank that form with an 18 length victory in the Midlands Grand National in March he goes into this year’s race 17lbs higher so he’s going to need to be a much better horse this time around to defy that mark.

Christmas In April brings plenty of staying form into this and looks an interesting contender. He’s failed to win in two runs here but was a solid 2nd just over a year ago when staying on well over half a mile shorter behind a subsequent winner (3rd and 4th also franked the form since). He won easily over this trip at Exeter in February on similar ground and is now only 7lbs higher so he looks to have a leading chance having finished a creditable 2nd last time out (the 3rd won next time out). There are probably better handicapped horses in this field but it’s all about finding the best handicapped horse IN THESE CONDITIONS and he is right up there.

Dominateur loves it here and shouldn’t be judged harshly on his defeat last time out when he had plenty to find with his two rivals at the weights. He’s been well beaten on his last three runs though so his current well being is a worry, as is his ability to make up plenty of ground over his rivals in this contest with prominent racers often favoured. He remains with potential but has many questions to answer, including stamina concerns.

Lord Du Mesnil ran okay at best over the Grand National fences at Aintree last time out but that run came over a mile shorter so isn’t the biggest concern. He has run at this trip before, in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, and he was a creditable 2nd there. His previous run had come when 2nd again in the Haydock Grand National trial on heavy ground so he has ticks for both the going and the distance here. It looks as though he’s been targeted at this all season so far with a run over hurdles blowing the cobwebs away followed by a run over a distance too short. His trainer has an IV of 2.01 in this distance range and he looks likely to outrun his odds.

The Two Amigos has plenty of ground to make up on Secret Reprieve based on their last meeting but he does have a 4lb swing and crucially an extra 7f to race over. We know he stays well enough as he was 5th in this last year and that race worked out well so there was no disgrace in being beaten 10 lengths. However this year’s race could be just as strong and he runs off the same mark (8lbs higher than his last winning mark) so doesn’t look well enough handicapped to land this for all he could easily run into the places.

One place, and 6 lengths ahead of The Two Amigos in the last running of this race was Prime Venture and he’s only 4lbs higher so should be able to confirm that form everything else being equal. He was ridden a bit more patiently than the other placed runners and has seemingly been ridden a bit more prominently in a few races since so could be seen to even better effect this time around. A last time out win was his first over fences so could act as a confidence booster and he’s capable of going well.

Yala Enki was also placed last year which means the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th from the previous renewal are all reopposing. He was ideally placed last time around but he too is only 4lbs higher again this year so must be in with some sort of chance. He’s the top weight here which won’t be ideal in stamina sapping conditions and is unlikely to get his own way out in front so a place might be the best thing to aim for again.

Ramses De Teillee bumped into Yala Enki at Cheltenham in November over 3f shorter and there was just a short head between the pair on that occasion and they are handicapped to finish together once again. The pair also met in this race in 2018 when they were 2nd and 3rd. Ramses De Teillee was 4 lengths ahead that day and is now only 4lbs worse off. It’s easy to see why he and Yala Enki are the same sort of price this time around but slight preference from the pair would be for Ramses De Teillee.

Verdict

It's not only a ten horse race but previous renewals have told us the winner is very likely to come from that group judging by the current market. There are many here that seem likely to run well and would probably appeal as place only bets but many of the solid contenders look far less convincing for win only purposes.

Lord Du Mesnil is very interesting and is presumably being campaigned around this and the Aintree Grand National this year. He’s worth covering as a saver each way but the main selection here is going to be Christmas In April who seems to tick pretty much all the necessary boxes and comes here in very good form with more to come.

Evan Williams aiming for glory at last in Welsh National

Evan Williams is pinning his hopes on Secret Reprieve to lead the charge at Chepstow this weekend – and finally prove he can train the Welsh Grand National winner.

Williams has had to grin and bear it from an early age, and specifically since his hugely successful training career began to flourish, whenever his father Rhys pointed out the Christmas marathon was still missing from his CV.

It is only a short journey round Cardiff and up the M4 from his Llancarfan base to the undulations of Chepstow, and he has worn weary at times of the jokes at his expense as he has returned without the main prize each year.

Williams’ own assessment of his Welsh National record – “not exactly great” – is notably modest, given he has provided the runner-up, third and twice the fourth, including last year with the returning Prime Venture.

He left the course 12 months ago with understandably mixed feelings, in fact, after his fellow Glamorgan trainer Christian Williams sent out Potters Corner to be Wales’ first winner of the race since Norther in 1965.

There was a thrill with the “right result” – but more than ever it meant those reminders of how Williams senior had won point-to-points on Norther, who went on to be partnered by the flamboyant Terry Biddlecombe at Chepstow.

“My father used to rib me for all of my life about it,” he said.

This year, the talented six-year-old Secret Reprieve – 7-2 ante-post favourite with title sponsors Coral – and Prime Venture promise that elusive moment of glory.

Williams added: “I’d like to do it for Wales, fly the flag for Wales, but most importantly I’d like to do it for the horse and the owners – because both sets of owners are massive supporters, and I get an awful lot of enjoyment out of training winners for them.

“(Years ago) it was just this mythical event that I never thought I’d have a horse good enough to run in, or a trainer’s licence to be able to run in it.

“I suppose it’s because of all these old fellas over the years that have told me about the Welsh National that it means such a lot to have a horse with a chance of winning.”

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As for his father’s association with Norther, he said: “That’s all I’ve heard about all my life…he ribbed me for years and years.

“Although I was fourth last year, I was glad I wasn’t second – and I was just delighted another Welsh horse had managed to win it, so I wouldn’t have to hear about Norther all my life.”

He has often endured rather than enjoyed those tales of yore.

“It’s like everything you hear about in the old days,” he said, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“They were always better, the fences were always bigger and the races were always stronger.”

The celebrations were fierce too, he senses: “My father liked a drink, and Terry Biddlecombe liked a drink, and it’s fair to say there were plenty of places in Cardiff which you wouldn’t want to go to that got a hammering that weekend.”

State Of Play was an Aintree regular
State Of Play was an Aintree regular (David Davies/PA)

Secret Reprieve, bidding to follow up his 12-length romp in the big-race trial over seven furlongs shorter, carries the famous colours of the Rucker family – for whom Williams trained Cappa Bleu to finish third in 2013 as well as Aintree Grand National regular State Of Play, among many others.

He said: “They’re irreplaceable supporters of ours – owners with us from the very start.

“We have a very close relationship, very close bond – without them, make no mistake, this racing yard wouldn’t be what it is. They support you – if it goes right they support you, and if it goes wrong they support you.”

Victory in the Ruckers’ blue and pink will be special for the yard, and so too if Prime Venture were to upset the odds for his Welsh owner Janet Davies.

“I do beat myself up about it sometimes that we haven’t managed to nail one of those major Nationals,” said Williams.

“It would mean an awful lot to me to win any of them.

“I have an awful habit of being placed in all of these big races – it’s nice to win them now and again.”

He is confident his two contenders will have “exactly what they want” if, as usual, this year’s race is run on heavy ground – and win or lose, he sees a bright future for Secret Reprieve.

“I hope he can figure higher in the handicap ranks down the line, and he might just be a bit better than that,” he said.

“He could be anything – but he has to go and do it on Sunday, and it will be a big test.”

Potters Corner was a Welsh National winner for Wales
Potters Corner was a Welsh National winner for Wales (David Davies/PA)

Williams was able to join the Welsh chorus of approval at victory for Potters Corner last year.

“I was genuinely thrilled that it was Christian who was the first Welsh winner for so long,” he said.

“But if I’d been second I wouldn’t have been so thrilled … I’d have been a miserable devil.

“It was the right result last year for the rugby boys (owners) and Christian – they would have done a better job of celebrating than me. I’d have just come home and fed some cattle, and gone to bed!”

If his name is to stay off the silverware again, he has no hesitation in naming Colin Tizzard as the trainer he would love to see successful with Christmas In April.

This weekend’s renewal is named the Coral Welsh Grand National (run in memory of Kim Gingell) – in memory of Tizzard’s daughter, who died in May.

Williams said: “If I got beaten a short-head by the Tizzards, would I really begrudge them? I wouldn’t.

“It’s run in Kim’s honour – sometimes there’s bigger things than a few horses running round a wet, boggy field in Monmouthshire, isn’t there?”