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.”

Yala Enki tops 20 still in Welsh National

Yala Enki heads 20 horses confirmed for the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

The 10-year-old will have to carry the burden of 11st 12lb on Sunday if he is to attempt to better his third-placed finish in last year’s renewal and provide Paul Nicholls with a third victory in the race as a trainer.

The Ditcheat handler is also responsible for the second horse in the weights, Truckers Lodge, who finished one place ahead of his stablemate when runner-up to Potters Corner 12 months ago.

The betting is headed by the Evan Williams-trained Secret Reprieve. The six-year-old is lightly-raced over fences following just five chasing attempts, and bolted up on his latest visit to Chepstow three weeks ago.

Williams could also saddle another last-time-out winner in Prime Venture – who was a close fourth in this weekend’s marathon last year.

Other contenders include Tom George’s Springfield Fox, Colin Tizzard’s Christmas In April, the David Pipe-trained pair of Ramses De Teillee and Vieux Lion Rouge and The Two Amigos from Nicky Martin’s yard.

The latter was fifth in last year’s Welsh National, and has run well in defeat at Bangor and Chepstow so far this season.

“All being well, he’ll be there again on Sunday,” said Martin.

“He has a nice weight (10st 9lb). It’s a better weight than last year, when he had 10st 6lb, because it’s a little bit light for Matt Griffiths and he had to waste quite a bit. I think 10st 9lb is more doable for him.

“The Two Amigos will go there with his heart on his sleeve and will try his best, that’s for sure.”

The main supporting race on the card is the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle, which has attracted 14 entries.

Possible runners in the Grade One contest include Pipe’s recent Cheltenham winner Adagio, Gary Moore’s Nassalam and Gordon Elliott’s unbeaten pair of Duffle Coat and Quilixios.

Welsh National will be run behind closed doors

Chepstow’s Coral Welsh Grand National meeting is set to take place behind closed doors this month, following a statement on the course’s website confirming continued Government restrictions.

Crowds returned to four courses in England on Wednesday – for the first time since March, apart from two previous pilot race days – after the Government relaxed Covid policy.

But Wales will not be following suit.

The statement on read: “The Welsh Government has announced that spectators will not be allowed to attend race meetings in Wales until early 2021 due to the Covid19 pandemic.

“It had been hoped we could welcome spectators at Chepstow and Ffos Las following Boris Johnson’s decision to allow customers to attend elite sport in Tier 1 and 2 regions in England from December 2.

“Unfortunately this is not the case, and discussions with Welsh Government are continuing. We hope for a positive outcome.”

Chepstow’s next meeting is on Saturday, and the biggest date in the course’s calendar is December 27 – for the Welsh National.

Native River handed Welsh National option ahead of Aintree return

Native River is one of four potential runners for Colin Tizzard in this year’s Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

It is four years since the bold-jumping chestnut landed the Monmouthshire marathon before going on to scale even greater heights with victory in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The 10-year-old won each of his two starts last season before injury prevented a return to Cheltenham in March, but he is reported to be in rude health ahead of a likely bid for back-to-back victories in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on December 5.

Speaking in his latest Coral blog, assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “Native River is in beautiful form at home. We have the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree, the race he won last year, as the first target for him.

“He schooled on Wednesday morning and he will definitely be ready for that, and then it’s a case of what options we will look at for him.

“We spoke to Garth and Anne Broome (owners) and we agreed that we would give him an entry for the Welsh Grand National, as we want that option for him. He’s not getting any younger, and with the Gold Cup as competitive as it is, I’m not sure he’s going to win another one, so we wanted to give ourselves a Christmas big race option for him when there isn’t a lot else.

“He’s rated 168, which is obviously a lot of weight, but the conditions of the Welsh Grand National really play to Native River’s strengths – as we have seen before.

“We don’t have to decide now – we can take a look at the weights, and the ground and the opposition nearer the time and make a decision then.”

Tizzard’s other possible Welsh Grand National contenders are Copperhead, Christmas In April and Lamanver Pippin.

Copperhead was pulled up on his seasonal reappearance over hurdles at Wetherby, while Christmas In April and Lamanver Pippin recently finished placed at Fontwell and Cheltenham respectively.

“Copperhead was disappointing at Wetherby, but he seems in really good form now and he’s heading for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury,” Tizzard continued.

“His form as a novice (chaser) last year seems to tick a lot of boxes for a Welsh National horse. He’s a big, long-striding, horse who gallops all day. His first target is the Ladbrokes Trophy, but this would be the next logical option.

“Christmas In April is a real stayer who ran well in the Southern National at Fontwell on Sunday. He is a horse that will get in off a low weight, which is always an advantage in the Welsh National.

“Lamanver Pippin ran a blinder on his comeback at Cheltenham last weekend. He won at Chepstow last year and the Welsh National looks the right race for him.”

Potters Corner not certain to defend Welsh National title

Last year’s Coral Welsh National winner Potters Corner heads 51 entries for the 2020 renewal – but he is not certain to defend his Chepstow crown next month.

Christian Williams’ charge sparked jubilant scenes after landing the extended three-mile-six-furlong marathon last December, with his owners including Wales rugby star Jonathan Davies.

The 10-year-old’s Grand National bid was then scuppered by the Covid-19 lockdown, but he reappeared with a fine third in Cheltenham’s cross-country chase last week, beaten seven lengths on what was his first outing over non-regulation fences.

While Williams has entered Potters Corner for the Welsh National again, Aintree in April is the long-term target and the trainer has yet to discuss the route to Merseyside with the gelding’s owners.

He said: “I’ve not spoken to the owners yet, but obviously we’ve given him the entry in the race and we can make a decision later.

“It would be hard to pass up a big race like that, but we want to win the Grand National – which is a pretty big race too!

“Weight rises wouldn’t be the worry as much as he’s a 10-year-old now, so you don’t know how many more Nationals he will have in him and we thought the cross-country route might just give him a bit more longevity.

“I’ll have to talk to the owners and see what they want to do.”

Williams has also entered Kitty’s Light in the December 27 feature following his staying-on third in the Badger Beers Silver Trophy at Wincanton earlier this month.

The four-year-old has won three of his five starts over fences so far and Williams believes a stern test of stamina could play to his strengths, although he would have to defy the statistics with six-year-olds being the youngest winners in modern times.

He added: “Kitty’s Light is entered and the track would suit him a lot better than Wincanton. He just couldn’t quick get his jumping together there over three miles.

“We just never seem to get to the bottom of him, he just seemed to be getting going and he finished with his ears pricked at Wincanton. He looks like he could be made for this sort of trip.”

Celebrations for the Native River team at Chepstow in 2016
Celebrations for the Native River team at Chepstow in 2016 (Nick Potts/PA)

Colin Tizzard has won the race twice in the last four years and has 2016 victor Native River and last season’s Reynoldstown winner Copperhead among his possible team this time.

Notachance, Ramses De Teillee, Yala Enki and Lord Du Mesnil are also entered, along with Kim Bailey’s Newtide, who took part in a racecourse school with stablemate Vinndication at Newbury on Tuesday.

Bailey said: “He is in at Haydock on Saturday and he will probably either run there or go to the Rehearsal Chase the following weekend. His long-term aim is the Welsh National.”

Six entries from Ireland include Tony Martin’s At The Acorn and the Paul Nolan-trained Discorama.