The Welsh Grand National, run over 3 miles 5½ furlongs at Chepstow, presents a stern test of stamina and jumping ability under any circumstances but, under the prevailing testing conditions, could turn into a war of attrition which few survive (1.45pm Saturday live on CH4).
Last year’s winner Emperor’s Choice (11/1) needed every yard of the marathon distance when overhauling Benvolio in the shadow of the post to win by a short head and must have every chance of becoming the first back-to-back winner for 25 years. Venetia Williams’ charge is 10lb higher in the weights this time around, but proved his well being with a game win off a 6lb lower mark at Haydock seven weeks ago and relishes testing conditions.
Upswing (8/1) and Cogry (8/1) finished second and fourth respectively in the race won by Sausalito Sunrise at Cheltenham eight weeks ago. That form has been franked by the joint fifth Perfect Candidate, as well as Rigadin De Beauchene and Soll who finished further adrift, so both merit close attention. However, Cogry is 1lb better off for the length he finished behind Upswing at Cheltenham and, unlike his rival, was making his seasonal debut that day, so should prove the pick of the pair on this occasion.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ other entry, Tour Des Champs (14/1) has his stamina to prove, but returned from a lengthy absence to win the Welsh Grand National Trial over 2 miles 7½ furlongs on heavy going at Chepstow five weeks ago and looks reasonably treated under a 4lb penalty. He was pulled up on his only previous effort in this race, two seasons ago, but could fare better off an 11lb lower mark.
Last time out winners have a decent record in the Welsh National, as do runners with previous winning form over fences at Chepstow, so our shortlist should also probably include Bob Ford (16/1), Mountainous (8/1) and Woodford County (16/1).
Bob Ford, trained locally by Rebecca Curtis (pictured), is hardly a model of consistency, having won twice but been pulled up four times in his last six starts, but there wasn’t much wrong with his 11-length defeat of Cloudy Copper over 3 miles 1½ furlongs on heavy going at Ffos Las in December. He has won over 3 miles 4 furlongs and relishes testing conditions so could go well, despite a 4lb penalty, if in similar mood.
Mountainous won this race off a 5lb higher mark two seasons ago and, although he’s failed to trouble the judge in nine subsequent starts (including in this race last year), has been well supported in the ante-post betting market this year. He ran creditably in defeat in the London National over 3 miles 5 furlongs at Sandown five weeks ago and is fully effective under testing conditions. However, he is 11 now and may be vulnerable to younger legs.
Woodford County is one of three Philip Hobbs’ entries and could only finish seventh of 19 beaten 24 lengths behind Emperor’s Choice in this race last year. He stayed on dourly to win over 3 miles 6½ furlongs at Exeter in December, but a 4lb penalty for that success means that he is on the same mark as last year and may not fare any better.
- Jockey Sean Bowen has an enviable record on steeplechasers for Rebecca Curtis, so our preview’s Welsh Grand National betting tips advice is to back Bob Ford each-way at best odds of 16/1 with Bet365 or Paddy Power. He has won a couple of times over fences at Chepstow and is well handicapped if on a going day.