Although it is not as famous as the Aintree equivalent, the Welsh Grand National, which takes place at Chepstow, has become a much-loved post-Christmas event. It is a gruelling 3m 5 ½f slog that typically takes place on soft or heavy ground. The Grade 3 event was won by Raz De Maree in 2018, and this year is the fourth occasion since 2011 when the Welsh Grand National was run twice in the same calendar year.
The reason for this is because the originally scheduled races were postponed each time; due to snow & frost on one occasion, and waterlogging in 2012, 2015, and 2017. Therefore, Raz De Maree goes down in the record books as the 2017 Welsh Grand National winner, even though he won it in January 2018.
A Brief History of the Welsh Grand National
The first Welsh National took place in 1895 at Ely Racecourse in Cardiff. It was a feature of the track until its closure in 1939. There was a single running at Caerleon in 1948, and the race was permanently moved to Chepstow in 1949. The first jockey to win the race at Chepstow was none other than the legendary author, Dick Francis. David Nicholson has the honour of being the only jockey to ride three consecutive winners (1959 – 1961).
Up until 1969, the race took place on Easter Tuesday but organisers elected to move it to February in the hope of attracting better quality horses. In 1979, the race was moved to December because the February version had been abandoned due to snow. If the organisers believed that would be the end of their woes, they were sorely mistaken.
On the one hand, moving the Welsh Grand National has helped attract a far better pedigree field. The race is now considered a decent measuring stick for the Gold Cup and Grand National. Earth Summit won the 1997 race and followed up with a win at the 1998 Aintree Grand National. 2002 winner, Bindaree, also won the Aintree race in 2003, while 2004 winner, Silver Birch, triumphed in the 2007 Aintree Grand National.
Synchronised won the 2010 race and the 2012 Gold Cup, while Native River won in 2016 and came out on top in an epic duel with Might Bite to win the 2018 Gold Cup. However, there has been a certain cost. There have been multiple cancellations due to bad weather since the race was abandoned due to snow in 1969. Since that year, the original race has been completely abandoned five times, rescheduled on four occasions, and run at an alternative occasion once (Newbury in 1994).
Even so, it is a hotly anticipated race, with a number of potential winners amongst the preliminary 59-runner field.
Narrowing Down the Field
When you have almost 60 possible runners and a maximum field of just 20, it isn’t easy to trim the fat. However, since this is being written well in advance, I’m going to use trends to narrow down the field and create a shortlist of contenders. When the final field is announced, you can focus on the horses that remain.
- 19/21 winners were aged 9 or younger. However, two of the last three winners were aged 11+. Also, there has been no 9yo winner since 2003.
- 18/21 winners carried 11-0 or less. 16/21 winners carried 10-10 or less.
- 0/21 winners carried less than 10-0.
- 21/21 winners finished in the top 6 last time out.
These statistics make it nice and easy to narrow down the field without having to delve deeper into each horse’s record. When the horses that finished outside the top 6 are removed, the field is cut to 34 contenders. We can also safely remove horses carrying less than 10-0 which further narrows the field, this time to 29 contenders.
It is tempting to remove horses aged 10+ but it, for now, I remain cautious because there have been a couple of older winners in recent years. Perhaps it is better to delve deeper into the weights carried by previous winners. As you can see, only three horses have won the Welsh Grand National carrying more than 11-0. Two of these winners were exceptional horses: Native River and Synchronised, who both went on to bigger and better things.
There are some high-quality horses in this race carrying over 11 stone including the preliminary joint-favourites, Elegant Escape, and Ramses de Tailee. Not to mention Vieux Lion Rouge and Folsom Blue. Rather than eliminating horses because of a failure to meet one of the trends, it is wise at this stage to remove horses that don’t meet a couple of trends.
In this instance, I found that no horse has won the race aged 9+ and carrying 11-1+ in the last 20+ years. Only three horses were eliminated!
And Then There Were 26
Here are three more important trends:
- 17/21 winners had at least one race of 3m 5 ½f, the length of the Welsh Grand National.
- 21/21 winners last ran 20-54 days before the race.
- 20/21 winners had 1-3 season runs.
The first trend makes perfect sense because the race is a slog over heavy ground. Horses lacking experience over the trip will find it hard to stay the course. The other trends are also relevant because horses need to be fresh to get the better of the Chepstow course.
At this stage, only nine runners meet the criteria, and practically every horse that has been eliminated has failed to meet two trends or more. Horses that have previously run at Chepstow should be taken into consideration now because 9/12 winners had previously run at the course. This trend removes two more contenders. Here is what the seven-horse shortlist looks like:
- Impulsive Star
- Another Venture
- Pobbles Bay
- Rathlin Rose
- Houblon Des Obeaux
- Vintage Clouds
I will dig a little deeper but bear in mind that at least some (hopefully not all) of these horses will not run in the race.
As it happens, we can safely remove Impulsive Star from our contender list because the horse has yet to win a Chase race; and every Welsh Grand National winner going back at least 16 years had a minimum of one career Chase win before the big race. As a result, there are now just six contenders.
If you want to go a little deeper into finishing positions, 18/21 winners finished in the top four. Neither Houblon Des Obeaux nor Milansbar fits this trend, and since they are both 11yo horses, we can eliminate them from contention. Another Venture finished fifth in the last race and is also eliminated.
Now, we are left with:
- Pobbles Bay
- Rathlin Rose
- Vintage Clouds
This is an interesting development since all three horses ran in last year’s race. Pobbles Bay was seventh, 43 lengths behind the winner, while Rathlin Rose only finished one place ahead, but was also 25 lengths clear of Pobbles Bay. Vintage Clouds was fourth, about 1.5 lengths ahead of Rathlin Rose.
While Pobbles Bay has shown nothing to warrant much respect since the race in January, Rathlin Rose has won a Class 2 at Ascot and was fourth in a Class 2 at Sandown last time out. Moreover, he is nine pounds better off at the weights this year compared to Raz De Maree. At present, you can get 50/1 on Rathlin Rose to win.
Vintage Clouds is a classy horse and has finished in the top three in six of the last seven races; the fourth place in last year’s Welsh National is the only time he was outside the top three. We know he can handle heavy ground (last year’s race was also on heavy going), but he is carrying 11-3, two pounds more than last year.
Only three horses have won this race carrying 11-3+ in the last 20 years, but if you think Vintage Clouds can buck the trend, he is currently available at 12/1.