Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase 3m5 1/2f Chepstow Tuesday – First run in 1895, the race moved to Chepstow in 1949, where it was won by the ten year old Fighting Line, ridden by Dick Francis, the future Royal Jockey, (rode Devon Loch for the Queen Mother in the 1956 Grand National where he had that mysterious collapse on the finishing straight, with victory in his grasp) and legendary crime writer.
Surprisingly, for a contest that one tends to associate with the out and out staying type, the race has been won by plenty of classy performers, including four future Cheltenham Gold Cup heroes, Burrough Hill Lad (1983), Cool Ground (1990), Master Oats(1994), and Synchronised (2010).
Of trainers represented on Tuesday, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Paul Nicholls, and Jonjo O’Neill share the training honours with two victories apiece, but they are some way adrift of the great Martin Pipe who won five of the six renewals between 1988 and 1993. Unfortunately son David has yet to hit the back of the net but any runner from the Nicholashane yard is worth a second glance. Weight has been of huge significance with the giant Carvills Hill twenty five years ago, the last to carry top weight to victory, and indeed only three, the subsequent Gold Cup winner, Synchronised (11st6lbs) the Alan King trained Halcon Genelardais (11st3lbs) and Irish trained Notre Pere (11st) have managed to defy the eleven stone barrier in the last twenty years. A previous outing has been vital, as we have to go back more than thirty years to find a seasonal debutant in the winners enclosure. Age also has been very significant, with only three horses (including the 11yo Mountainous last year) in double figures, collecting, in the past three decades. Welsh Stables have struggled to keep the prize west of Offa’s Dyke, with the last winner to hail from the Principality being the David Jenkins trained Norther in 1965. Can any, of Curtis, Bowen, or Williams rectify this sad state of affairs next Tuesday?
Well the latter, represented by last year’s runner up, Firebird Flyer (pictured top) looks to have a serious chance. As a nine year old he is in the right age category, with 10st 8lbs on his back the weight looks ideal, and having had a pipe opener at Haydock on November 19th he has had the requisite outing, so he certainly goes there on Tuesday with plenty going for him. Indeed that highly encouraging Haydock performance, (first run for eight months) off Tuesdays mark of 141, strongly suggests that the Williams contender has improved this season, as his second in last years contest was off a mark of 133, and his subsequent win in the Midland Grand National was off 138. The softer the better for this strong stayer, so definitely one for the shortlist.
Colin Tizzard’s Hennessy Gold Cup winner, Native River, looked an improved animal at Newbury, but with top weight here has a huge task in front of him, as no Hennessy winner has won this since Playschool in 1987. Some pretty talented animals, who have run well at Newbury, such as the subsequent Grand National winner, Hedgehunter, who finished a good 4th in the 2004 Hennessy, failed to make any impression in the Chepstow marathon, with only 10st2lbs on his back. Very soft ground would also be a negative for the Tizzard 6yo, but as runner up in the 4m National Hunt Chase the trip should hold no fears.
Runner up at Newbury, Carole’s Destrier, meets the winner on 3lbs better terms for the 1/2L he was beaten, and Neil Mulholland’s 8yo certainly wasn’t stopping at the end of that gruelling handicap. Unfancied in the market, it was his first run for seven months, so plenty of improvement can be expected. He probably wouldn’t be suited by very soft ground but if Chepstow remains dry is worth considering.
Whatever the ground is like on Tuesday, the Philip Hobbs trained Onenightinvienna will cope, and this 7yo demonstrated his wellbeing with a win in a Carlisle conditions event at the beginning of November.
A winner of a Class2 3m event over hurdles, he was rated 144 in that discipline, but on breeding he was always going to be a staying chaser. He ran in the Grand National in April, coming down at Beechers on the second circuit, having previously finished 5th over an inadequate 3m at Ascot in Febuary. Racing on Tuesday off a mark of 146 giving him a racing weight of 10st13lbs this progressive young chaser doesn’t look badly treated and could easily give Philip a second Welsh National.
The 8yo Unioniste probably represents Paul Nicholls best chance of bagging a third win in the contest, as racing off a mark of 145, he is fully 13lbs lower than where he started last years campaign. A previous winner at Grade3 and Class1 level, he needed his first two runs in October and November, and should now strip fit and ready to run. This strong stayer, a winner of seven chases, has won three times on heavy ground, so if the rain arrives, could find conditions ideal, and it will come as no surprise to see him in contention jumping the last on Tuesday.
Selection: Firebird Flyer
E.W. : Onenightinvienna