Hot on the heels of the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day comes the second steeplechasing highlight of the festive season, the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow, which is scheduled, weather permitting, for 2:50pm on Monday, December 27. Nowadays run over a distance of 3 miles 6½ furlongs, and 23 fences, the Welsh Grand National remains shorter than its English and Scottish counterparts, but nonetheless represents a thorough test of stamina and jumping ability.
Last year’s comfortable winner, Secret Reprieve, is 6lb higher in the weights this time around, but still looks well treated and, consequently, jointly heads the ante-post market. The main problem with him is that he hasn’t run since January and, given his preference for cut in the ground, the unseasonably dry, mild weather has delayed his return to action. Trainer Evan Williams is reportedly keen to try for a repeat win, but ‘desperate’ to give Secret Reprieve a preparatory run.
The other joint-favourite, Ask Me Early, has his stamina to prove, but has won three of his four starts over regulation fences, including two at Chepstow, and is a progressive young chaser who needs to be taken seriously. He returned to action, following a wind operation, with a narrow win in a novices’ hurdle at Exeter in early November, so should have no fitness issues.
Beyond the market leaders, Yala Enki, who has finished third in the last three renewals of the Welsh Grand National, beaten 5¼ lengths, 2¾ lengths and 3¼ lengths, respectively, takes the eye. Paul Nicholls’ charge is rapidly approaching his twelfth birthday, but is 6lb better off with Secret Reprieve compared with last year and won on his reappearance at Cheltenham in mid-November. Long-priced winners of the Welsh Grand National have been something of a rarity in recent years, but if there is to be a shock result he could be the one to provide it.