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Coole Cody sights set on further Cheltenham glory

Coole Cody bids to bag his second major prize at Cheltenham this season in Wednesday’s Ballymore Silver Trophy Handicap Chase.

The Evan Williams-trained 10-year-old landed the prestigious Paddy Power Gold Cup in November and has subsequently run three sound races in defeat – most recently finishing a close-up fourth in the Paddy Power Plate at last month’s Festival.

Williams, who won the Silver Trophy with Buywise in 2014, said: “He’s run well all year and I thought it was a very solid effort last time.

“The form of that race looks good – I thought the winner (The Shunter) ran a very good race in the Grade One novice chase at Aintree the other day to finish second, so we’ll give it a shot.

“Buywise was a great old horse for us, but to be fair to Coole Cody, he’s won a Paddy Power Gold Cup, which is one of the the major handicap chases of the year. I think Coole Cody has a little more strength in depth to him, to be fair.

“He goes back to Cheltenham with a good chance. He’ll handle any ground and is a good, tough, genuine horse on his day.”

Coole Cody’s eight rivals include Henry Oliver’s stable star The Big Bite.

Formerly trained by Tom George, the eight-year-old made a winning debut for his new trainer at Aintree in November and has since finished second at Doncaster and third in the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury.

“He’s in good order and the ground will be fine for him and the trip is fine for him,” said Oliver.

“Most of his form has been on flat, galloping tracks. He has won around Chepstow, which is an undulating track.

“He’s run three solid races for us and likes a bit of time between his races. We’ve minded him a little bit and he’s in good nick.

“I’m very happy with the horse and he’s going there with every chance.”

Dan and Harry Skelton team up with Romain De Senam, while Gary Moore’s Benatar appears feasibly weighted on the pick of his form.

Magic Saint (Paul Nicholls), Pym (Nicky Henderson), Up The Straight (Richard Rowe), Two Taffs (Nigel Twiston-Davies) and Manofthemountain (Emma Lavelle) complete the Grade Two field.

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.

Karl Philippe seeking to extend O’Brien’s fine season

Karl Philippe bids to provide Fergal O’Brien with another big-race victory in the EBF Final at Sandown.

The Gloucestershire-based trainer is enjoying an excellent campaign, highlighted by the Grade Two triumphs of Hurricane Harvey, Silver Hallmark and Alaphilippe.

Before saddling likely Pertemps Final favourite Imperial Alcazar at next week’s Cheltenham Festival, O’Brien is first out to strike Grade Three gold on Saturday with Karl Philippe – who made it third time lucky over hurdles with a 10-length success at Exeter last month.

O’Brien said: “I hope he goes there with a good chance. He’s in good form.

“He was placed in his first two hurdles over two miles – and as soon as we stepped him up in trip and rode him a bit more forward, he proved the shorter trip was the problem.

“We’re looking forward to running him on Saturday and seeing how he gets on.

“It’s very competitive, but we’ll go there and take our chance.”

David Pipe saddles top-weight Martinhal, who beat Karl Philippe by half a length in January and followed up last time.

“He’s won his last two, and the step up in trip should suit,” said the Pond House trainer.

“Like a lot of these horses, all his form has been on softer ground.

“It’s difficult to win a race like this off top-weight, but we’re hoping he has an each-way chance.”

Nicky Henderson has two contenders Captain Morgs and Patroclus, while Colin Tizzard’s Striking A Pose and Sam Barton from Emma Lavelle’s yard also feature.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Rainyday Woman sets the standard in the first of two Listed races on the card – the British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

The daughter of Kayf Tara bolted up on her debut for the Ditcheat handler at Stratford in November, before following up in Listed company at Huntingdon the following month.

“She has done nothing but please since she joined us in the summer, winning stylishly at Stratford before following up in a Listed mares’ bumper at Huntingdon just before Christmas,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“Rainyday Woman has a 4lb penalty in a hot looking race, and any further rain at Sandown would be in her favour.”

Rainyday Woman is re-opposed by Kim Bailey’s Huntingdon runner-up Flirtatious Girl, while the dangers include Henderson’s Tweed Skirt.

Listed honours are also up for grabs in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Novices’ Handicap Chase – a race which has been switched to Sandown from the Cheltenham Festival.

High Up In The Air has won his last five races for Gary Moore, who said: “This is a massive jump up in class.

“He just needed that first run over fences at the start of the season, while he loves soft ground and was well handicapped.

“He is a very good jumper, and that has helped him. He has won here before, but that was over shorter, and I think the extra few furlongs will suit him.”

Evan Williams is looking forward to saddling Annsam, who was slapped with a 12lb rise for a 42-length win at Ludlow in December.

“He’s a raw horse. The handicapper absolutely hoofed him up for winning a bad race last time, (but) I’d be pretty keen to give it a crack,” said the Welsh trainer.

“He went up 12lb for winning what in effect was a ‘nothing’ race, having a school round.

“The handicapper is right 99 per cent of the time, so I hope he is right.

“Annsam is a nice horse, (but) he’s a raw horse.”

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.”

Secret Reprieve not heading to Cheltenham

Evan Williams has confirmed that Secret Reprieve will be an absentee at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

The Welsh Grand National winner, who was achieving a lifetime ambition for his Glamorgan trainer when successful at Chepstow in January, has a tempting entry in the Aintree equivalent next month.

He held options before the Randox Grand National in both the National Hunt and Brown Advisory novice chases at Cheltenham – but they are no longer on his agenda this spring.

“He won’t go to Cheltenham,” said Williams.

“I will take him out of the Cheltenham races this week.”

Secret Reprieve is owned by William and Angela Rucker, for whom Williams has trained State Of Play and Cappa Bleu to be placed in previous Grand Nationals.

The seven-year-old is prominent in the ante-post betting, having been heavily backed for his impressive victory as the 5-2 favourite at Chepstow – where he was following up a wide-margin course success in the trial for that race.

Williams announced soon afterwards that Secret Reprieve would not take up his entry in last month’s Grand National Trial at Haydock, with later spring targets instead apparently in mind.

The hugely promising novice has risen a stone in the ratings for his two Chepstow handicap wins but is still currently due to carry just 10st 1lb at Aintree – and increasingly likely to make the cut for the race, should connections decide to head there.

On the subject of Aintree, Williams added: “The only thing I can categorically say is he will not go to Cheltenham.”

Chepstow hero Secret Reprieve to be entered for Grand National

Evan Williams has confirmed Secret Reprieve will be given an entry in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.

The seven-year-old novice landed a sustained gamble last time out in the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow, following up a win in the Trial for the same race.

While Williams was keen to stress Secret Reprieve is far from guaranteed to run at Aintree, owners William and Angela Rucker have unfinished business there 0 having been placed in the race seven times through State Of Play, Cappa Bleu and Alvarado.

“I don’t know what we will do next, but he will be entered in the Grand National – that’s all I can say right now,” said Williams.

“He will be entered in it. We’ve had a good discussion about it, and it will certainly be talked about. We might give that a shot.

“I’m not saying we’ll end up going there, but that is the latest – entries close next week. I’m not saying we are going to go, but I’m saying he will be entered.

“It’s only a few weeks since his run, and he’s only been going quietly. He has the entry for the Grand National Trial at Haydock – but that will come too soon, that’s one thing I can say. That will come too quick for him.”

Williams is also hoping to have two runners in the Betfair Hurdle next weekend, in Mack The Man and Ballinsker.

“We’ll try to get Mack The Man in, and if it dried Ballinsker could run,” he said.

“It’s very wet everywhere at the moment, but we are better having this weather at this time of year than in the spring.”

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.”

Secret steps up for Welsh National assignment

Evan Williams is hoping Secret Reprieve can overcome his inexperience and justify favouritism in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on Saturday.

The seven-year-old has headed the ante-post market for the long-distance handicap chase since a resounding success in the Rehearsal Chase at the Monmouthshire venue last month.

That was only his fifth run over fences and eighth career start in all, but Secret Reprieve does tick a lot of boxes ahead of the contest, which is subject to an 8am precautionary inspection.

“The positives are he’s well handicapped, he has a good racing weight and he loves the track,” said the Llancarfan trainer.

“The negatives are he’s very inexperienced and he’s got no experience in big fields, so there are positives and negatives but fingers crossed it’s on.”

Williams also saddles Prime Venture, who was fourth behind Potter’s Corner in this race last season and made a winning reappearance at Sedgefield in November.

“Prime Venture is a horse who has to improve because he’s up 4lb, but I think he has improved,” he said.

Prime Venture bids to improve on his fourth place in last season's Coral Welsh Grand National
Prime Venture bids to improve on his fourth place in last season’s Coral Welsh Grand National (Clint Hughes/PA)

“He’s far from straightforward, but on his day he does thrive in races like the Welsh National.

“He’s been placed in a Welsh National, placed in a Midlands National and he’s more than capable on his day.”

Ramses De Teillee, runner-up to Elegant Escape in December 2018, is one of two runners from the David Pipe stable.

The grey has to bounce back from a disappointing run in the Becher Chase at Aintree, over the Grand National fences, won by his stablemate Vieux Lion Rouge.

“Ramses De Teillee didn’t handle the fences at Aintree last time. He’ll be more at home over the park fences. He’s finished second in the race before,” said the Nicholashayne handler.

Vieux Lion Rouge has a 4lb penalty for his Becher success.

“Vieux Lion Rouge is 8lb well in, but going up 12lb for his last win was harsh enough,” Pipe added.

“Both are in good form and will like the ground and hopefully have each-way chances.”

Springfield Fox is expected to relish the testing conditions at Chepstow
Springfield Fox is expected to relish the testing conditions at Chepstow (Simon Cooper/PA)

Tom George feels Springfield Fox will relish the heavy ground and is expecting a big run.

The eight-year-old has not run over fences since unseating his rider in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but had a prep run over hurdles on this course five weeks ago.

“He loves really heavy, testing ground – that’s perfect for him. He gives the impression he just keeps galloping. He’s not a speed horse, he’s an out-and-out stayer,” said the Slad handler.

“I think everything is in his favour, I just hope it goes ahead.”

Truckers Lodge and Yala Enki were second and third 12 months ago and their trainer Paul Nicholls is convinced they will not be far away again.

“Conditions will be ideal for both of ours,” the Ditcheat handler told Betfair.

“Yala Enki stays all day, has gone close in the race for the last two years and is again a big player despite carrying top weight.

“He did brilliantly at Cheltenham in November when he was only just chinned by Ramses De Teillee. That was a career best in my book, but he then over jumped at the first in the Becher Chase at Aintree which was just one of those things. He looks rock solid in a race tailor-made for him.”

Truckers Lodge won the Midlands National last season, but is a lot higher in the handicap and unseated his rider at Kelso on his return.

“He is nice and fresh and was fine after he unluckily unseated Lorcan Williams at Kelso the day I expected him to go close,” said Nicholls.

“He is a relentless galloper and ran clean away with the Midlands Grand National just before lockdown, although the handicapper had his say afterwards by raising him 14lb.

“Truckers Lodge ran a blinder in this race a year ago to be beaten less than two lengths by Potters Corner and will give a good account again, though it will be harder for him from his new handicap mark.”

Nicky Martin has The Two Amigos in tip-top condition for the Coral Welsh Grand National
Nicky Martin has The Two Amigos in tip-top condition for the Coral Welsh Grand National (Clint Hughes/PA)

Nicky Martin reports The Two Amigos to be in better shape than 12 months ago when he was fifth and he made an encouraging reappearance when second to Secret Reprieve last month.

“He doesn’t do a lot when he comes off the bridle and he is a front-runner. That’s where enjoys being, but he does stay all day. Hopefully, he’ll stay a bit better this time,” Martin told Sky Sports Racing.

“Obviously the favourite (Secret Reprieve) is well handicapped, but we’re slightly better in at the weights this time round.

“He’s just very consistent. He’s rated 142. He’s off the same mark as he was last year. He’s never won off that mark, but he’s always there or thereabouts.”

Silver Streak will take direct route to Champion Hurdle

Evan Williams will keep Silver Streak fresh and direct the Grade One-winning grey straight to the Unibet Champion Hurdle next.

Having landed his first top-level victory on Boxing Day with the surprise scalp of the reigning champion Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle – adopting front-running tactics for the first time – Silver Streak has become a genuine Cheltenham contender.

However, Williams acknowledges his chance depends almost entirely on the ground – with none of his eight career wins achieved on anything worse than good to soft.

“He deserved it, he tries every time and is very hard on himself,” said Williams, who explained he and jockey Adam Wedge decided on their change of tactics at Kempton after a long discussion.

“We talked and talked, and kept going through the race,” he said.

“The epitome of a fool is someone who keeps doing the same thing and expects a different result.

“We just thought we had to try something different – and thankfully it all worked out.

“It will be straight to the Champion Hurdle now, and we’ll hope for a dry spring – because he is a different horse on that ground.”

Star Gate’s Challow challenge as Williams eyes another Grade One

Evan Williams is still on a high following Silver Streak’s maiden Grade One win on Boxing Day – and he is chasing another top-level success with Star Gate in the Mansionbet Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.

The youngest runner in Tuesday’s line-up – he does not turn five until New Year’s Day – brings an unbeaten record into the contest, having won his only point-to-point, a maiden hurdle at Chepstow and scored a very impressive success in a Grade Two at Sandown last time out.

“It might be asking a bit much to win another!” said Williams.

“He handles soft ground, we know that, but he’s only a four-year-old – although he turns five at the end of the week.

“I didn’t envisage giving him such a busy campaign if I’m honest – it definitely wasn’t on my radar.

“But the horse is fresh and well, he’s come out of Sandown well – and this is probably the only place we could go in reality.

“I didn’t want to drop down in trip for the Tolworth (at Sandown on Saturday) and I didn’t fancy running him somewhere with a penalty in a Grade Two, having won one of those already.

“It’s a very hot race, very deep, and it will be very difficult to win.”

Kim Bailey’s Does He Know failed to win in two outings over timber last season but is three from three this time around, with one of those a Grade Two at Cheltenham last time out.

All his wins have come on a decent surface, though, and Bailey is unsure how he will handle softer ground, with the meeting subject to precautionary inspection at 8.30am due to the threat of frost.

David Bass gets a great leap out of Does He Know on their way to winning at Cheltenham
David Bass gets a great leap out of Does He Know on their way to winning at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He’s pleased us enormously with what he has done so far, but this is a big step up and we need to find out whether he is a March Cheltenham horse or not,” said the Andoversford trainer.

“He deserves to be running in a race like this, anyway.

“I don’t know about the ground (being softer). I had him entered at (nearby) Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, but that will be heavy – we’ve got a covering of snow this morning. Fingers crossed, he will handle it.”

Paul Nicholls is another trainer with a Grade One already in the bag over Christmas, having won an incredible 12th King George with Frodon.

He runs Bravemansgame, very impressive at Exeter and Newbury the last twice.

“I think the world of Bravemansgame who has a big future and won so impressively at this track a month ago over this trip,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“He has matured and strengthened, continues to please at home – and I’m hopeful the soft ground at Newbury will not be a problem for him.”

Alan King’s The Glancing Queen has twice run well in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and made a winning start to life over hurdles at Warwick last month.

“The Glancing Queen was very impressive at Warwick and enjoyed the experience, which was what we wanted, so we now look forward to seeing how she shapes up in grade,” King told his website.

Dan Skelton’s Wilde About Oscar and the Sophie Leech-trained Enfant Roi complete the classy field.

Silver Streak shocks Epatante in Christmas Hurdle

Silver Streak upset odds-on favourite Epatante to spring a shock with an all-the-way win in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

Jockey Adam Wedge employed a significant change of tactics on Evan Williams’ grey, and Silver Streak rose to the challenge – jumping accurately and running the finish out of this year’s Champion Hurdle heroine, who was sent off the 1-5 favourite but had to settle for second.

Epatante made one untimely error, at the third-last, as Aidan Coleman asked her to close down the winner – and although she managed to move within striking distance early in the straight, Silver Streak had plenty in reserve and surged clear again after the last to win by six and a half lengths.

The 13-2 victory was his first at Grade One level and recompense for misfortune at Newcastle in last month’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle, when he was carried out at the second flight by a loose Not So Sleepy, before Epatante won with ease there.

Williams, who was not at the Sunbury track, said: “There are lots of horses that people say deserve this and deserve that, but the reality is it is a tough old game and nobody deserves anything really – but that lad today, he is so genuine and because he is so genuine and tough he did deserve it.

“I was hoping he would be good enough one day, as I kept telling everybody, but to land it like he did does mean an awful lot to us really.

“The ground is a huge thing and I can’t overemphasise that. He has been running some very good races in defeat on ground which isn’t what he wants, but he goes out there and does his best on it, even though he is not getting the purchase he needs.

Adam Wdge powers to victory aboard Silver Streak
Adam Wedge powers to victory aboard Silver Streak (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I said to Adam, who was riding here after schooling on Christmas Eve, that I want to make the running in the Christmas Hurdle. I said I don’t want to be second or third in a Christmas Hurdle, that means nothing to me. We either go a good gallop and finish last or we roll the dice and get something out of it.

“I had no ambition to be second or third in a Christmas Hurdle, I wanted to win one – and the only way I could see that was to ride him and go a very good gallop. I would say the jockey has played a blinder. I do think he is a Kempton horse, and if you look at his form around Kempton it is outstanding.

“Let’s not worry about the Cheltenham Festival or let’s not worry about anything else. He has won a Christmas Hurdle, and if that is all we ever do and win a Grade One Christmas Hurdle with him then I’m a very proud man.”

Nicky Henderson, meanwhile, will regroup with Epatante.

The Seven Barrows trainer said after saddling the winner of the closing race on the card: “I’ve had a chat with Aidan. She scoped clean, her heart is clean and she blew for 20 minutes which is spot-on normal. Twenty minutes is right, 15 minutes you’ve done nothing and 25 minutes you are not fit.

“Aidan said he wasn’t getting the same feel he did off her at Newcastle. I don’t think that was the ground – it was just one of those things that happened. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her.

“She has been really well in herself, and her preparation has been completely perfect – for me anyway. We all thought everything was 100 per cent. Aidan just felt he wasn’t going well enough, because she is the sort of horse you can just ride along on the bridle and press the button and she goes.

“It just didn’t happen, and Aidan said it didn’t feel likely to happen. I’d say we will leave her until Cheltenham. There is something lurking there, but at the moment we only have a limited amount of tests. That wasn’t the Epatante we love on the day, but they are not machines.

“Whatever you do, you sometimes can’t explain these things. Aidan knows her well and he said he wasn’t getting the vibes.”

Coleman said: “The winner deserved to win. The race went to plan, but just from turning in that burst of speed she has wasn’t there for some reason. She will be back. That made no difference (the mistake down the back).”

Epatante bidding to show champion class in Christmas Hurdle defence

All eyes will be on Epatante as the brilliant mare seeks to defend her crown in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

The Champion Hurdle heroine returned to action with a stylish success in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and will be all the rage to capture the two-mile Grade One prize for the second year running.

But Nicky Henderson, who is also represented by Floressa, feels her latest assignment should not be seen as merely a penalty kick.

Henderson said: “We’re going to take the same route as last season – she almost certainly won’t run again before Cheltenham.

“She’s got to come through this test first. It will test the horse and it’s testing times for us – there’s a lot at stake.

“Only a really good performance will satisfy the pundits. If it’s not tip-top, it won’t be satisfactory, but there’s a lot more to it than just going round, I assure you.

“The criteria for these really good two-mile hurdlers is their jumping – it’s how they cross a hurdle and how quickly they get from A to B.”

Silver Streak will attempt to go one better place than 12 months ago in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)
Silver Streak will attempt to go one better place than 12 months ago in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Evan Williams is under no illusion that last year’s runner-up Silver Streak faces a tall order in reversing the placings, but with ground conditions set to suit he remains optimistic of a big run.

“The reason Silver Streak does so well is that he battles and toughs it out against whatever he’s up against,” said the Welsh trainer.

“It would be nice one day to get his ground (in a Grade One) – and I think it could be OK on Saturday. The negative is obviously the filly is very, very talented and will be very difficult to beat. But he might get there one day, because of his attitude. He’s got the most remarkable attitude.”

Since making a winning return at Kempton in a Listed event, Silver Streak has been carried out in the Fighting Fifth before being denied a first Grade Two success in a photo for the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

He added on call hosted by Great British Racing: “What happened at Newcastle, there are days you come back from the races upset and irritated – but those things happen. That wasn’t anybody’s fault, that was just racing.

“We were beaten fair and square (in the International) – Tom’s (Symonds) horse (Song For Someone) gave us weight, and the hurdles being out was the same for everybody in the race.

“If the hurdles had been in, Tom’s horse would probably have beaten us further because his horse is a good jumper.”

Sam Twiston-Davies expects Ballyandy to run another solid race at Kempton (Julian Herbert/PA)
Sam Twiston-Davies expects Ballyandy to run another solid race at Kempton (Julian Herbert/PA)

Sam Twiston-Davies hopes last year’s third Ballyandy, trained by his father, Nigel, can reach the frame once again having been placed in all three of his starts this season.

The Grade One-winning rider, who is an ambassador for William Hill, said: “I’m really looking forward to riding him. He has been an absolute star for us this season.

“Epatante will be very hard to beat, but at the same time he has run some very consistent races.

“We know that Kempton is probably not his ideal track and we will be looking forward to getting some heavy ground in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock, but there is a lot of prize-money on offer

“It is a pleasure to have these sort of horses in the yard and if he was to go and win it would be lovely.”

Diego Du Charmil has plenty to find on official ratings, but trainer Paul Nicholls is optimistic he could sneak into a place.

He said: “We’re only playing for places as Epatante is a certainty if she turns up and runs her best race.

“It’s hard for Diego wherever he goes. He kept getting stuffed by Altior over fences, so there’s no point taking him on.

“We’ll run in the hurdle race and see if we can pick up some crumbs.”

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.”

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?”

Silver Streak set for Christmas Hurdle again

A second tilt at the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton is next on the agenda for Silver Streak following his narrow defeat at Cheltenham last weekend.

The Evan Williams-trained grey was runner-up to subsequent Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante in last year’s Christmas Hurdle – and has been successful on each of his two other visits to the Sunbury venue.

After being carried out in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on his penultimate start, Silver Streak aimed to get back on the winning trail in last Saturday’s International Hurdle.

After being caught in an unpromising position as the field rounded the dolled-off final hurdle, the seven-year-old stormed up the hill to be beaten just a nose by Song For Someone.

Williams said: “He seems grand and well since the weekend and he will go to the Christmas Hurdle.

“You could say he was a little bit unlucky, but the best horse won. The winner was giving us weight, and we were second best on the day – we have no complaints.

“We’ll go to Kempton and try and get some place money again.”