The field take a fence during the 2012 Coral Welsh National Image reproduced with the kind permission of Chepstow Racecourse

The field take a fence during the Coral Welsh National
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Chepstow Racecourse
©Steve Pope

The Coral Welsh National has long been regarded as one of the most hard fought contests of the season and one which regularly offers up vital Grand National clues.

Teaforthree came so close to winning this race 12 months ago when just edged out by Monbeg Dude and Rebecca Curtis’s 9 year old has his first run here since finishing a creditable third in the Aintree Grand National. He is interestingly weighted on 11 stone 2 pounds – thanks to the inclusion of Tidal Bay, who carriers 10 pounds more.

Tidal Bay ran somewhat disappointingly in the Betfair Chase having made a successful return in a staying hurdle race at Wetherby. Last season his efforts included a fine second to Bobs Worth in the Hennessy Gold Cup and a memorable victory in the Lexus Chase. He also won a Betfred Gold Cup in heavy ground in 2012. Can he turn the clock back? Well Chepstow in bad conditions can be a bleak outpost and he will need all his old enthusiasm to lump this weight around in such a competitive field.

Hey Big Spender comes into the race having returned to form with a vengeance when winning the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle last time out. There are question marks against the form of the Tizzard yard at present and he is a horse that appears to have two ways of running.

Highland Lodge is in the form of his life at present and he followed up a fine second at Wincanton with a bold showing in the Hennessy Gold Cup where he lead for much of the way, only giving way late in the race but staying on for fourth place. He also ran well for a long way in last season’s National Hunt Chase over 4 miles at Cheltenham and with only 10 stone 6 pounds and favoured ground conditions, looks to have a big chance.

Goulanes is a fascinating runner for David Pipe in a race which 20 odd years ago used to be dominated by Pond House runners. This 7 year old showed great resolve in hurdle races last season before making a winning debut over fences in the prestigious Towton Novices’ Chase where he beat the smart Super Duty. He looked likely to play a part in the finish to the RSA Chase too but faded in the latter stages and is likely to strip much fitter for a recent run at Cheltenham.

Merry King was widely fancied for the Hennessy Gold Cup having run a fine second to Houblon Des Obeaux at Ascot the time before. In the event, he finished fifth, one place behind Highland Lodge and as a 6 year old may still have improvement to come.

Around this time last year, Wyck Hill was being touted as a possible Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, largely off the back of his Ascot victory over the highly rated Katenko. His form has been somewhat derailed since then and he has not always been the surest jumper, although he finished ninth over the Grand National fences in the Becher Chase last time. If he returned to the form of his Ascot victory last December, he would have a big chance, although for the time being there has not been any evidence that he has.

Well Refreshed had a super time of things last season and the Gary Moore yard is in good form at present. The highlight of his four victories was undoubtedly the Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock in gruelling conditions and his recent third place run in the London National at Sandown Park, gives hope that he is coming back to form. With only 10 stone and 2 pounds to carry, he has plenty in his favour.

Ireland’s record in the Welsh National is not a great one, however the only Irish winner, Notre Pere, was trained by Jim Dreaper, who sends another runner across the Irish Sea in Goonyella. The 6 year old was a Punchestown winner in April and most recently ran a fine race to finish fifth in the Troytown Chase at Navan. He is open to more improvement and of course he is lightly weighted and looks to have a live chance.

Sue Smith has had a great 2013 with Aurora’s Encore winning the Aintree Grand National. Here she aims to capture another National with Vintage Star, who followed a Carlisle victory with a close second to Hey Big Spender at Newcastle. The yard is in good form and the 7 year old is another with genuine claims on the back of his last run.

Hawkes Point is Paul Nicholls’ second representative but comes into this race with only one victory over fences in a low grade Taunton novice chase almost a year ago. He clearly has given indications at home that he stays as he ran in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival but his overall form has been disappointing. He did however show a spark of life when fourth at Cheltenham last time.

Knock A Hand is the representative of Richard Lee, who has struck up a close affinity with the Welsh National in recent years. His horse has shown a liking for heavy ground, which was demonstrated with his recent Carlisle victory.

David Pipe’s second runner is Amigo, a French recruit who has won at Chepstow over hurdles, but whose overall level of form does not suggest he is a likely winner here. Chartreux had a good season last time but has run poorly both times in this campaign and needs to find significant improvement to figure in this race.

Mountainous is Richard Lee’s second runner in the race and has proved a model of consistency, placing on his last 7 runs. He is lightly weighted and should be respected given Lee’s record in the race.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies yard is another with a good Welsh National record and Tour Des Champs is an interesting runner as he has won on heavy going and is in reasonable form this season, including a second place finish to Balthazar King at Cheltenham. He races in the colours of Bindaree and at 6 years of age, will retain his zestful youth for this marathon.

Ace High was a useful runner two seasons ago but has clearly had his problems with big gaps between races. He ran well when third to Nuts N Bolts at Haydock Park in November but is very hard to assess.

Red Rocco is another with remarkably reliable form having been placed on his last 10 efforts spanning over 2 years. He is another from the Twiston-Davies yard and another who is only 6 years old and could run a big race despite being enormously out of the handicap.

Harouet’s overall form gives little encouragement and this is another horse carrying a lot more weight than the handicapper’s rating, while One In A Milan has failed to complete in two of the last three races.

Heavy ground promises to put an absolute premium on stamina at Chepstow on Saturday. The Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle sees a field of six runners in this prestigious race which often throws up clues for the Triumph Hurdle.

These youngsters are likely to find conditions really gruelling and Nicky Henderson’s Kentucky Hyden comes here with lots of experience, including a win on heavy ground at Sandown in November. Nick Williams runs an interesting horse in Le Rocher, who makes his English debut and won twice in France prior to a disappointing run at Auteuil in November.

Gary Moore runs his interesting Flat recruit Violet Dancer, who is unbeaten in both starts over hurdles, while Paul Nicholls uses this Grade 1 race to introduce Solar Impulse, another ex-French horse who won in heavy ground at Autueil in June. Chocala has his second start for the out of form Alan King and the field is completed by Arty Campbell who looks to have plenty to find.

Later on the card, Tranquil Sea, a former Paddy Power Gold Cup winner, makes his debut for Warren Greatrex in a fascinating race which includes Tom George’s highly-rated Mail De Bievre, the improving Coverholder, a back to form Renard and the progressive Get It On.