The Welsh National has a long and illustrious history as well as several home and calendar dates.
The race originally had its home at Ely Racecourse in Cardiff, where the first running was held back in 1895. When Ely Racecourse closed in 1939, World War II intervened and the Welsh National didn’t resume until 1948, when it was relocated to Caerleon.
Just a year later, the race was moved to Chepstow and since that time, the Welsh National has thrown up all manner of Gold Cup and Grand National horses. The conditions of the race, its prestige and prize money make it an attractive proposition for the young, up and coming staying chaser and that has played a large role in a terrific role of honour.
The Welsh National is open to any horse over 4 years of age and cover roughly 3 miles and 5½ furlongs, which is often covered in the deepest winter ground. That wasn’t always the case however, and up until 1969 the race took place on Easter Tuesday, before being moved to February. However, February can provide adverse weather conditions and the race was moved again, taking place on the Saturday before Christmas, before finally moving to its present timing of the day after Boxing Day in 1981.
The legendary jockey and author Dick Francis, rode Chepstow’s first Welsh National winner in the shape of Fighting Line. David Nicholson, later a successful racehorse trainer, rode three successive Welsh National winners in 1959, 1960 and 1961.
In 1976, the race was won by Rag Trade, who would of course go on to Aintree glory, defeating Red Rum. Bad weather forced the race’s abandonment the following two years and in 1979, the progressive Peter Scot took the race defeating subsequent Gold Cup winner Master Smudge.
The latter horse returned in 1980, along with the Hennessy Gold Cup runner-up Silent Valley, but neither were a match for the John Francome-ridden Narvik. A year later, the race was won by the hugely talented Peaty Sandy, a young horse, absolutely thrown-in at the weights, who would become a standing dish in staying chases for years to come.
Peaty Sandy was back to defend his crown in 1982, but the handicapper now knew his ability and at the weights, he faced a seemingly impossible task, as a thrilling finish was fought out between Pilot Officer and another 1980s favourite: Corbiere, with the top chaser Captain John also in the field. Jenny Pitman’s chestnut, with the bold white face, would win this en-route to a famous Aintree Grand National victory just 4 months later.
Twelve months later, Pitman was back with another young chaser, who would go on to even greater heights. The 1983 renewal looked hugely competitive on paper and had a classy look to it with the likes of Royal Judgement, Corbiere, Lucky Vane and Bonum Omen all competing. With the first two of these heading the weights, Pitman’s other runner came into the race on just 10 stone 6 pounds and a terrific gamble ensued. Little wonder, as the world came to realise the talents of Burrough Hill Lad.
John Francome starved himself over the Christmas period to ensure he could do the weight and the horse duly won as he liked. It really was just the starting point for a glittering career, which also saw Burrough Hill Lad add a Cheltenham Gold Cup that season, a Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup and King George VI Chase and one can only wonder what else he might have achieved had he not been blighted by injuries.
In 1984, Michael Dickinson, that remarkable young trainer who had absolutely revolutionised British racing, walked away from National Hunt to join forces with Robert Sangster, who had purchased the famous Manton Stables from which Dickinson would train his beautifully bred Flat thoroughbreds.
Back in Harewood, Dickinson’s mother Monica took over the yard and inherited a rich stock of talent. Among these was the improving 7 year old Righthand Man, who was sent to Chepstow along with stable mate Planetman. In a quality field that included A Kinsman and Tacroy, Lucky Vane and Peaty Sandy were back for more, while towards the bottom of the weights lurked a future Grand National winner a long way off, in the form of Little Polvier.
The race proved a triumph for Monica Dickinson though as Righthand Man continued his progression with a victory over Lucky Vane and Planetman. By March, Righthand Man had improved enough to play a significant role in the finish to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, just losing out to Forgive ‘N Forget.
A year later, another progressive young horse took the race as Run and Skip, runner up in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, proved a ready winner, before playing his part in that famous Gold Cup of 1986, in which he vied for the lead for much of the way with Dawn Run.
Jenny Pitman claimed a third victory in the race the next year as the big, black horse Stearsby was at the height of his powers. The rest of the 1980s belonged to two men, who have dominated National Hunt training during the last decade.
In 1987 however, Paul Nicholls was still finding his way along as a jockey, riding for among others, David Barons. That year the stable had a real superstar in the big, white faced chaser Playschool. The horse had finished second in the Sun Alliance Chase to Kildimo but reversed form in the Hennessy Gold Cup and again prevailed in the Welsh National, which also contained two future Grand National winners in Rhyme N’ Reason and Little Polvier.
Of course Paul Nicholls would make even more of an impact as a trainer, with his great rival for many years, the now retired Martin Pipe. From 1988, the latter dominated the Welsh National, winning 5 of the next 6 renewals.
Bonanza Boy became a hugely popular chaser towards the end of that decade, into the early part of the 1990s. His size, ability and running style all helped to make him a horse to follow when the mud was flying and he was seen to great effect in 1988 and 1989 in the Chepstow race, winning the race under 11 stone and 11 pounds on the second of these occasions.
Then in 1990, future Gold Cup winner Cool Ground ran out an impressive winner under Luke Harvey, beating the Gold Cup prospect Carrick Hill lad and Yahoo, the horse that had given Desert Orchid an almighty fright in the previous year’s Gold Cup.
Cool Ground’s Gold Cup came in 1992 – and the horse he shocked on that occasion, Carvill’s Hill, added his name to the Chepstow roll of honour in 1991 in perhaps the most memorable renewal of them all.
The strapping 9 year old had been Ireland’s hope of a long-awaiting Cheltenham Gold Cup winner but had suffered back problems. He generally either won his races or fell and when leading owner Paul Green purchased the horse, he sent him to the prolific Martin Pipe. Intense schooling re-taught the horse how to shape at fences with the result an impressive comeback win in Chepstow’s Rehearsal Chase.
What followed in the 1991 Welsh National was truly spectacular, as the horse, shouldering 11 stone 12 pounds, absolutely demolished a classy field containing: Party Politics (conceding a stone and 5 pounds to the subsequent Grand National winner), Aquilifer (a Festival winner in receipt of a stone and 3 pounds), Bonanza Boy (two-time winner of the race, receiving 7 pounds). There was a distance back to the rest of the field, which included prolific winner Zeta’s Lad, Cool Ground – who would win the Gold Cup four months later, Kildimo, Twin Oaks and Esha Ness, who would of course win the 1993 Grand National that was voided.
Carvill’s Hill and Peter Scudamore set off in front despite giving 7 pounds and more to the rest of the field and simply went further and further clear. By the home turn for the final time, the rest of the field were strung out like washing and the race was completely sewn up. It was a weight carrying record for the race and Carvill’s Hill was eased down to win by 20 lengths from Party Politics.
The 1992 running merely tightened trainer Martin Pipe’s grip on the Welsh National, as Run For Free lead home a quartet of Pond House runners, with Riverside Boy second, Miinehoma third (he would of course prove another Grand National winner) and old Bonanza Boy in fourth.
Riverside Boy got his name on the winners’ list in 1993, beating the gallant Fiddlers Pike and Mrs Rosemary Henderson and Cool Ground.
Then in 1994, Chepstow was unable to race due to conditions and the Welsh National moved to Newbury where another superstar emerged in the shape of Master Oats. Kim Bailey’s charge was another mud lover and took this race on his way to winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However this was another vintage line-up, with Earth Summit – who would eventually win an English, Scottish and Welsh National, in second place ahead of Party Politics.
Weather then intervened in 1995 and 1996 and Earth Summit – who had suffered a bad injury and endured a long lay-off, came back into glorious form to take the 1997 Welsh National.
Supreme Glory won a classy 2001 renewal, which saw subsequent Grand National winner Bindaree and runner-up What’s Up Boys in the line-up, as well as past Gold Cup winner See More Business and previous winners Jocks Cross and Edmond.
In 2003, Bindaree proved his Aintree win was no flash in the pan as he won a memorable race from three horses who would place in Gold Cups: Sir Rembrandt, Hedgehunter and Take The Stand. Hedgehunter of course would also win a Grand National, as would the 2004 Welsh National winner Silver Birch – trained by former riding sensation Paul Nicholls!
The Ditcheat team followed up in 2005 too with the feisty mare L’Aventure, before classy Halcon Genelardais beat future Grand National winner Mon Mone in 2006. Alan King’s horse returned in 2007 but finished second to Miko De Beauchene in one of the race’s most emotional results, for winning trainer Robert Alner had recently suffered horrific, life-changing injuries in an accident.
A year later Notre Pere became the first Irish trained winner of the race and in 2009, Dream Alliance, a horse who had been close to death, recorded a fairytale win.
The Welsh National of 2010 went to one of those typical Jonjo O’Neill/JP McManus improving handicappers. This sentence is correct, but somewhat misleading, as the race took place in January 2011 following a spell of freezing weather – and the horse in question proved rather more than just an improving handicapper given a typically invigorating ride by the great Tony McCoy.
For this winner was Synchronised and he went on to record Cheltenham Gold Cup glory in 2012. Eleven months on, it was the turn of Richard Lee’s Le Beau Bai, while 2012 saw the progressive Monbeg Dude take the race in a thrilling finish, just beating Teaforthree, after the race had been rescheduled due to bad weather.
In 2013 trainer Richard Lee won his second Welsh National in three years, as Mountainous scaled the heights to win the big race.
A year later, there was a terrific scrap as the Venetia Williams trained Emperor’s Choice got the better of Benvolio by just a short head in an exciting race.
In December 2015 the race had to be moved due to waterlogging. The race was eventually run in gruelling conditions in January – and produced a sensational outcome.
It was Mountainous who prevailed in stamina-sapping ground to give fledgling trainer Kerry Lee, daughter of Richard Lee, a major prize in her first season training. For Mountainous it was a second success in the race.
The Coral Welsh National has become an important trial race for staying chasers, usually has a large, competitive field and often contains former winners and placed horses who return year after year. No wonder it has become a popular race for punters and racing enthusiasts alike.
Welsh National Winners since 1976
|1977||no race 1977–78|
|1983||Burrough Hill Lad|
|1985||Run and Skip|
|1992||Run for Free|
|1995||no race 1995–96|
|2007||Miko de Beauchene|
|2011||Le Beau Bai|