The Grand National phenomenon, which began at the Merseyside venue of Aintree, has now spread far and wide, with all corners of the UK seeming to have their own version of the staying chase showpiece. Wherever they take place, these dramatic, marathon affairs never fail to capture the imagination of the racing public.
It should come as no surprise then that the Welsh Grand National is comfortably the biggest event of the year at the Monmouthshire track of Chepstow. Taking place in late December each year, the contest adds to what is a golden festive period for National Hunt fans, coming hot on the heels of the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.
First held in 1895 – 56 years after the English version made its debut – the 3m6½f trip is a little shorter than the Aintree race, while the 27 fences aren’t quite as formidable as the likes of Becher’s Brook or The Chair. Other than that, this event shares much in common with its inspiration, with proven staying power and consistently accurate jumping being crucial characteristics of success. Also like the Aintree race, the Welsh Grand National attracts significant betting interest, TV coverage, and a capacity crowd at the track.
A Grade 3 handicap, the race is open to chasers aged four and older, and offers an excellent £150,000 (2023) in total prize money – making it one of the most targeted events of the season for the most talented staying chasers in training.
Welsh Grand National 2023: Runners & Riders
- Iwilldoit – Dylan Johnston, Sam Thomas
- Complete Unknown – Harry Cobden, Paul Nicholls
- The Big Breakaway – Adam Wedge, Joe Tizzard
- The Galloping Bear – Sam Twiston-Davies, Ben Clarke
- Nassalam – Caoilin Quinn, Gary Moore
- Chambard – Miss Lucy Turner, Venetia Williams
- Iron Bridge – Jonjo O’Neill Jr, Jonjo O’Neill
- Truckers Lodge – Freddie Gingell, Paul Nicholls
- Only The Bold – Jack Tudor, David Pipe
- Autonomous Gold – Paddy Brennan, Fergal O’Brien
- Iceo Madrik – David Noonan, David Pipe
- Super Survivor – Gavin Sheehan, Jamie Snowden
- Amateur – Connor Brace, John Flint
- Charlie Uberalles – Danny McMenamin, Dianne Sayer
- Wayfinder – Lilly Pinchin, Rebecca Curtis
- Blade Runner – Freddie Gordon, Chris Gordon
- Max Dynamo – Rachel King, Emma-Jane Bishop
- Domaine De L’Isle – Ned Fox, Sean Curran
- Didero Vallis – Charlie Deutsch, Venetia Wiliams
- Not Sure – Richard Patrick, Kerry Lee
A Rollercoaster Ride for Runners
A bird’s eye view of Chepstow’s 1m7f left-handed oval track would suggest a course well suited to long-striding galloping types. The two turns are relatively tight, but that is more than offset by the extensive straight section in the backstretch and a home straight, which extends to four and a half furlongs. However, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story at Chepstow, as this is a track which is far from flat. Featuring extensive undulations throughout – most notably in the home straight – the ups and downs mean that the track demands balance in addition to jumping ability and stamina.
The fences of the Welsh Grand National Course – of which there are 11 per circuit – are broadly on par with those in evidence in standard chase contests held elsewhere. Whilst not unduly tricky, the open ditch four from the finish can prove troublesome, as can the final fence, due to the steep downhill approach. Front runners can go well on good or quicker going. If conditions become testing – as they regularly do in December – those ridden more patiently tend to fare best.
Whether attending a National Hunt fixture or one of the track’s flat meetings in summer, racegoers will likely be impressed by the standard of facilities, with a range of ticketing options to suit all tastes and budgets.
Racing Party Extends Beyond Boxing Day
The day after Christmas is always one of the most eagerly anticipated of the holiday season for sports fans, with an overload of race meetings and a full list of football fixtures to settle down with. Chepstow does its bit to keep the good times rolling, with the flagship fixture traditionally taking place the day after Boxing Day.
The Welsh Grand National serves as the centrepiece on a cracking seven-race card, which never fails to attract a lively crowd of racegoers from the local area and further afield. Chief amongst the supporting cast is the Grade 2 Finale Juvenile Hurdle, which grants an early sighting of high-class future stars.
Aintree Heroes and Gold Cup Kings on the Roll of Honour
Considering the demands of the race, it isn’t surprising that those successful at Chepstow sometimes go on to prove their mettle in the biggest National of them all. Rag Trade, Corbiere, Earth Summit, and Silver Birch are among those to have registered a famous National double over the years. Others have gone on to display their class at much higher than handicapping level, with Burrough Hill Lad, Synchronised, and Native River all adding a win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup to their Welsh National success.
Lightly Weighted Runners Fare Best
Given the extreme test of stamina, logic would suggest that it is far easier to carry a light weight than lug a welter burden around in the mud. Overall, the stats back up this theory. When looking at the results up to and including 2022, over 70% of winners had been saddled with 10st13lb or less on the day. Classy sorts can occasionally cope with a big weight, but the race more commonly falls to a runner creeping in a little lower in the handicap.
Horses aged between seven and 10 hold the best overall record, while, in recent times, a prep race within 35 days of the big race has proven to be a distinct advantage. As of 2023, Venetia Williams, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Jonjo O’Neill, and Paul Nicholls top the 21st Century trainers table, with two wins each.