Given its twenty-two fences, 3¾ miles and a whole load of closely handicapped runners, the Welsh Grand National takes a great deal of winning and that is as true for punters as it is for owners, trainers and jockeys.
This £150,000 spectacular is one of the genuine highlights of Christmas racing and while we could have probably genuinely pinpointed at least a dozen horses who would have had a theoretical winning chance at the earlier declaration stages, we’ve now managed to whittle the field down to these five shortlisted contenders on which to concentrate.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ gelding has a lovely profile for this race; an eight-year-old without too many miles on the clock, not carrying a lot of weight, who handles soft going and who has already won over three miles plus.
He reached a good level in February (rated 138) when winning over an extended three miles at Carlisle in a handicap and he’s started off this season in a similar fashion.
His fifth back at Carlisle and second at Bangor should have set him up nicely for this assignment and he is very much expected to reach a new level now, something that gives him an outstanding chance of at least reaching the money.
Trained by Dan Skelton, this is a runner with proven stamina given his three-mile win at Market Rasen back in February 2018, something backed up by solid runner-up efforts at Wetherby and twice at Newcastle in the Rehearsal Chase.
His record at Chepstow isn’t the best which is a small concern; having had three goes around here he’s been beaten by an aggregate of 115 lengths and while there is a chance that is only a coincidence, there’s enough evidence to suggest this course is just not his bag so again while the ability is clearly there and that gets him onto the shortlist, backing him to win would obviously be a risk.
Last year’s winner is bound to go off with some sort of a chance and he will no doubt have his supporters too. He carried 11st8lbs twelve months ago which was some effort, and his consistency in events like this means he simply cannot be left off this list.
He has followed the same path as last year by running in the Ladbrokes Trophy first (second last year, third this), and while he arguably ran even better this time around at Newbury, he is significantly higher in the handicap these days and so following up last year’s win will be a huge challenge.
Stuart Edmunds once had a horse winning at 40/1 at the Cheltenham Festival that had fine form, and it is exactly trainer’s such as he who are constantly underestimated.
His eight-year-old Now McGinty beat subsequent Ladbrokes Trophy winner De Rasher Counter comfortably last year, over three miles at Chepstow no less, before chasing home Mister Malarky at Ascot and Santini at Sandown over three miles in November.
His form is top-notch and his profile is superb, the major doubt simply being that having faced up to some high-profile runners, his handicap mark hasn’t exactly been protected and has in fact gone up 5lbs since he last won.
While chasing inexperience will always be a concern, often we have to just take the view that the trainer is to be trusted and that’s especially true when dealing with one handled by someone like Paul Nicholls.
This novice will be having only his fourth chase start, but his last was a good win over three miles around here which bodes pretty well and if he can improve enough off a mark of 139 and handles the occasion, he could hit the board.
Last year’s winner Elegant Escape looks set to go off favourite and it’s easy to see why. Having been there and done it we know he is a solid contender, but despite his terrific recent form confirming his continued well-being, he is a lot higher in the handicap now and could find things more difficult.
Another early fancy for many a punter was Now McGinty he ranks as our second choice, though once again he’s done everything in such a high-profile way that we cannot guarantee he has anything in hand off his current mark, leaving us with the vastly over-priced ARTHUR’S GIFT.
In coming from such a big yard it’s strange to see our horse being quoted at around 33/1 at the time of writing, and that is a price that could make him an each-way steal here.