On Tuesday, Chepstow stages the highlight of its year, the Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase.
Before the big race comes an important Triumph Hurdle trial, the Grade 1 Coral.co.uk Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle over two miles.
Defi Du Seuil is a fascinating horse who comes here with an impressive record to date. The Philip Hobbs gelding ran twice in the spring in France, finishing second on debut before beating Domino Dore by 7 ½ lengths at Lyon Parilly in late April. Having been bought by JP McManus, he made his debut for Hobbs in a Ffos Las maiden hurdle in mid-October, beating Ochos Rios by 5 lengths. A month later he headed to Cheltenham for a Grade 2 contest, beating Diable De Sivola by 1 ¾ lengths. He confirmed his status as one of the leading UK-based juveniles of the season so far, when following-up at Cheltenham in early December, beating Couer De Lion by 1 ¾ lengths.
Dino Velvet was producing a fine effort for Alan King on his hurdles debut, when falling at Cheltenham in November. He was fairly moderate on the flat in France, winning once from five starts. However, that first start in England was full of promise to the point when he capsized, and whilst his jumping was at times sketchy at Sandown Park in early December, he confirmed his ability with an 8 lengths defeat of Buckle Street.
Dolos could be something of a dark horse here. The Paul Nicholls team is in great form at present and this former French-trained gelding ran with real promise on his hurdles debut in a Listed contest at Auteuil in late April, finishing 10 lengths third of 16 to Middle. He then joined Nicholls and impressed on his English debut, beating Rainbow Dreamer by 7 lengths at Chepstow in October. In early November he returned to France for the Grade 1 Prix Cambaceres, running 18 lengths third of 11 to De Bon Couer.
Monday Club was a moderate performer on the flat, winning once during 2016, at Chepstow, in September. The Dominic Ffrench Davis trained gelding has shown promise on both starts over hurdles, although not to this level so far. He ran 11 ½ lengths third of 10 to Dino Velvet at Sandown Park in early December and 10 days later improved when ½ a length third of 6 behind Sporty Yankee in a Ffos Las maiden hurdle. This is a lot tougher.
Evening Hush raced at a moderate level on the flat in Ireland, but comes here unbeaten in two starts to date over hurdles. The Evan Williams charge landed an Exeter juvenile hurdle in late November by 2 ½ lengths from Litterale Ci. He followed-up at Aintree in a Listed juvenile hurdle in early December, slamming Castafiore by 21 lengths with a smart performance.
Next up comes the big race, the always testing Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase over three miles, five furlongs and 110 yards.
Native River has developed into a Grade 1 performer and hit a career high on his latest run. The Colin Tizzard trained 6 year old ran 3 ¾ lengths third of 7 to the vastly more experienced Cocktails At Dawn in a novice chase at Chepstow in October and in early November got off the mark when beating Abracadabra Sivola by an impressive 16 lengths at Exeter. Towards the end of that month Native River took a step up in class and was not found wanting, as he ran out a convincing 3 ¾ lengths winner from Un Temps Pour Tout in the Grade 2 Worcester Novices’ Chase at Newbury. The following month he contested the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park, but was perhaps exposed when finishing 7 ¾ lengths third of 7. He was similarly well held when contesting the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby in February, finishing 18 lengths third of 6 to Blaklion. However, Native River ran an absolute cracker in the four mile National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, coming home 1 ¼ lengths second of 20 to Minella Rocco in March. The following month he progressed to land the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree by 3 lengths from Henri Parry Morgan. He returned to action by contesting the Grade 2 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby in late October, running a cracking race to finish 2 ¾ lengths second of 6 to Silsol. A month later he won the Hennessy Gold Cup by ½ a length from Carole’s Destrier, staying on strongly to catch his rival late on.
Bishops Road proved a very useful horse in his youth with point to point and hurdles success but then missed over a year of action. The 8 year old had a busy 2015 although he seemed to lose his form along the way. The 8 year old ran third to Upazo at Tramore in August and then switched yards, moving to Kerry Lee. He made his debut at Sandown Park in early January and put up a sparkling display to beat Mr Muddle by 17 lengths. The following month he galloped his way into the Grand National reckoning with a 9 lengths defeat of Broadway Buffalo in the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock Park. The Crabbie’s Grand National was his target but he failed to get in by one horse, instead lining up in the Topham Chase and unseating his rider at the very first fence. Later in April he ran in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park, but was a faller. He returned to action in the Listed Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in late November, finishing 9 lengths fourth of 9 behind Otago Trail. He is high enough in the weights now but revels in the mud.
Viconte Du Noyer won twice in the summer of 2015, but after running 17 ½ lengths third of 4 to The Game Changer in a Tipperary Grade 3 novice chase last October, was not seen out again until March. The 7 year old ran third of 5 behind Jimmy Two Times in a Downpatrick hurdles contest on his return and then ran a super race in a valuable Aintree Grade 3 handicap chase in April, coming home 1 ¾ lengths third of 12 to Katachenko. In mid-May he was third for the fourth successive race, behind Clarcam in a Killarney Grade 3 chase. He was not seen out afterwards and moved from Henry de Bromhead to Colin Tizzard, for whom he made a winning debut in a competitive Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham in mid-November, beating Warrantor by a length. He then jumped around the Grand National course in the Becher Chase at Aintree, in early December, coming home a tailed off 12th of 22 behind Vieux Lion Rouge.
Houblon Des Obeaux has been a reliable stalwart in staying handicap chases, lumping big weights to victory at Ascot and heroic in defeat on several other occasions, but had seemed on the downgrade last season until landing a Newbury Grade 2 contest in February. The Venetia William trained 9 year old ran second to Many Clouds in the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup and last season reappeared in the Grade 3 Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot in late October 2015, finishing 21 lengths 9th of 15 to Pendra. He was similarly lack lustre in the Hennessy Gold Cup, running a remote 9th of 15 to Smad Place and then disappointing in this corresponding race, not jumping fluently and finishing 18 ½ lengths 8th of 13 behind Wakanda. In mid-January he ran a lot better in the Classic Chase at Warwick, staying on to finish 34 lengths fourth of 14 to Russe Blanc, despite not always jumping fluently. He confirmed his well-being in no uncertain terms as he took his field apart in the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury in mid-February, drawing right away in the home straight to defeat The Giant Bolster by 28 lengths. However, having missed Cheltenham, he ran no sort of race in the Grade 1 Betfred Bowl at Aintree in April, pulling up. He makes his return to action here.
Theatre Guide remains a horse with a real touch of class, who is lightly-raced but has a series of terrific placed efforts on his resume. In February he converted those fine runs into a spectacular victory in the BetBright Handicap Chase. The Colin Tizzard trained 9 year old put in a storming run to finish 4 ½ lengths third of 21 to Triolo D’Alene in the 2013 Hennessy Gold Cup. This term he shaped with promise on his seasonal return at Wetherby in late October, running 10 ½ lengths third of 8 to Wakanda. A month later he ran on resolutely to finish 12 lengths second of 15 to Smad Place in the Hennessy Gold Cup. He plugged on gamely in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in late January, finishing 36 lengths third of 8 to a pair of Hennessy Gold Cup winners in Smad Place and Many Clouds. In late February he headed to Kempton Park for the BetBright Handicap Chase and routed his rivals, beating Opening Batsman by 10 lengths but with the scope to have improved on that if asked to. He then contested the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival but suffered a heavy fall. The following month he jumped round in the Grade 3 Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park, but finished 17 lengths 8th of 20 behind The Young Master. He made a promising return to action when running 2 ½ lengths second of 7 to Indian Stream in a Listed handicap chase at Wetherby in late October. He failed to make his mark in this year’s Hennessy, finishing 17 lengths 8th of 19 to stable mate Native River at Newbury in late November. In early December he came back to form in a competitive Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham, catching Perfect Candidate in the final strides to win by a nose.
Vicente made his mark in his first season over fences, having won the Scottish Grand National as a novice last April. The Paul Nicholls trained 7 year old was an emphatic winner at Newton Abbot at the end of April and quickly followed-up with a victory at Wincanton the following month. After a summer break, Vicente ran 1 ½ lengths third of 7 to Shantou Flyer at Cheltenham in October, but appeared to improve on his return to Prestbury in November, beating the highly rated Un Temps Pour Tout by 2 ¾ lengths. He was back in action at Cheltenham in early December but disappointed when 17 ½ lengths fourth of 6 to Blaklion. He was not seen out again until running a highly respectable 15 lengths fifth of 20 to Minella Rocco in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The following month he beat Alvarado by 2 ¾ lengths to win the Scottish Grand National at Ayr. He returned to action in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in late November, running well for a long way before fading and falling at the second last.
Harry Topper returns from a very long break here and it will be fascinating to see how much of his old ability he retains. At the peak of his powers, the Kim Bailey trained 9 year old won the 2013 Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby by a neck from Wayward Prince. The following February he added the Grade 2 Denman Chase by 25 lengths from Al Ferof. There was talk of Harry Topper contesting the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but always with the proviso that he needed soft ground. He pulled up in the Midlands Grand National in March 2014 and again on his return in the Betfair Chase in November of that year. He was last seen finishing 22 lengths fifth of 6 to future Gold Cup winner Coneygree in the Denman Chase in February 2015.
Katkeau is certainly a talented horse when he gets round in races, but is not always reliable on that aspect. The David Pipe trained 9 year old won back to back races at Fakenham and Ludlow before Christmas 2015, but was then pulled up in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March. He returned there in late April and beat gas Line Boy by ½ a length. However, he pulled up in a Listed handicap chase at the same venue in late June and was a faller on his return in the Listed Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in late November.
Carole’s Destrier proved a hugely progressive chaser in the spring of 2015, winning at Ascot and Wetherby before finishing 49 lengths fifth of 9 to Saphir Du Rheu in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree that April. The Neil Mulholland trained 8 year old made a promising return to finish 28 lengths fifth of 12 to Drop Out Joe in the Listed Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton in early November and a month later he put up a super performance to land the London National at Sandown Park, beating Summery Justice by ¾ of a length. After a break he ran in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in March, but pulled up. He was disappointing in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park in late April, coming home 22 lengths 11th of 20 to The Young Master. He returned to action in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in late November and ran an absolute screamer, going into a clear lead after the last fence before being agonisingly caught late on by Native River, succumbing to a ½ a length defeat.
Onenightinvienna is a really interesting contender here and has shown great consistency, racing in the colours made famous by 1986 Grand National winner West Tip. The Philip Hobbs trained 7 year old placed twice before winning his last two starts as a novice hurdler last season, and completed his hat-trick when winning on his novice chase debut, beating Fletchers Flyer by 1 ¼ lengths at Exeter in late November. The following month he ran well at Cheltenham when finishing 2 ½ lengths second of 6 to the smart Blaklion and he lost little in defeat a month later when a head second to Local Show at Kempton Park. In late February he contested the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot, finishing 18 lengths fifth of 6 to Vyta Du Roc. He then had a crack at the Grand National, getting as far as second Becher’s Brook before he unseated his rider when towards the back of the field. He made a winning return in a two-horse race at Carlisle in early November, beating Seldom Inn by 1 ¾ lengths.
Milansbar remains a very interesting horse who has missed quite a lot of time. The Neil King trained 9 year old won a maiden hurdle in December 2012, but was not seen again for another two years. He returned at Uttoxeter in December 2014 and won a handicap hurdle, before completing a hat-trick on his next start. A couple of placed efforts followed at Haydock Park in early 2015, including his 9 ¾ lengths third of 6 to Closing Ceremony in the Grade 3 Rendlesham Hurdle and he rounded his campaign off with another handicap victory at Kelso in March. This term Milansbar has gone chasing and he ran well on his debut at Wetherby in late November, finishing 1 ¾ lengths third of 4 to Run Ructions Run. In early December he headed to Uttoxeter and ran 17 ½ lengths fourth of 5 to the useful Aubusson. He then ran well at Newbury in mid-February when finishing 3 ½ lengths second to Out Sam and just under a fortnight later impressed when beating Three Faces West by 8 lengths at Exeter. The yard is flying at present and Milansbar missed Cheltenham for this contest. He ran on dourly to finish 2 lengths second of 18 to Firebird Flyer in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March. He signed off for the season by finishing 26 lengths 9th of 28 to Vicente in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April. Milansbar ran an encouraging race on his return when 18 ½ lengths fourth of 14 behind Lamb Or Cod in the Welsh Grand National Trial at Chepstow in early December.
Unioniste looked to have been mapped out for the Grand National in 2015, but was an early faller. The Paul Nicholls trained 8 year old made his seasonal return last year in the Becher Chase but failed to get competitive and eventually finished 43 lengths 8th of 17 to Highland Lodge. The following month he was again below par when running a listless 41 lengths 12th of 13 to Wakanda at Ascot. He showed signs of coming back to form at Sandown Park in early February, when he ran 6 ¼ lengths third of 8 to Le Reve. Later that month he got back on track when beating the sadly ill-fated Neptune Equester by 9 lengths at Kelso. He returned to Kelso for the Premier Chase in early March, but was no match for Many Clouds, coming home 10 lengths second. He then contested the Grand National again in April, jumping round but never really competitive and eventually finishing a tailed off 10th of 39 to Rule The World. Unioniste returned in a Chepstow handicap chase in October but was a lack lustre and tailed off 11th of 16 to Potters Cross. The following month he contested a competitive Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham, but again struggled to make his mark, coming home 30 lengths 10th of 17 behind Viconte Du Noyer.
The mare Baie Des Isles was very smart in her native France but has so far failed to hit the same heights in Ireland. The Ross O’Sullivan trained 5 year old won over hurdles and fences around Auteuil but disappointed in three starts over hurdles in Ireland last season. She ran down the field in a Navan handicap hurdle on her return in November, but switched to fences, landed an amateur riders’ race at Punchestown in early January, beating Unic De Bersy by ½ a length. She again ran much better at Punchestown at the end of that month, when finishing 6 lengths second of 9 to the smart mare Bonny Kate. In late February she contested the Grade 2 Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse, running 9 ¼ lengths fourth of 7 to Boston Bob. A month later she put up a gutsy effort to finish 14 ½ lengths 6th of 27 to Rogue Angel in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. She returned to action in a Navan handicap hurdle in November and appeared in need of the run, finishing a distant 12th of 16 to Jury Duty.
Beg To Differ was a very useful novice hurdler two seasons ago, winning his last three starts. The Jonjo O’Neill trained 6 year old made a solid start to novice chasing in the autumn, running third to Southfield Royale at Wetherby in late October and 7 ¼ lengths third of 5 to Aubusson at Uttoxeter in early December. He stepped up into handicap company at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, running a cracking race to finish 8 lengths second of 8 to Perfect Candidate despite his inexperience. In late February he continued his progression as he won his first chase at Sandown Park, beating the ever-tough Loose Chips by 4 ½ lengths. He then ran in the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in mid-March, but unseated his rider. He returned to Cheltenham for a competitive Grade 3 handicap chase in November, but was pulled up. In early December he ran poorly in the Welsh Grand National Trial at Chepstow, coming home a tailed off 10th of 14 behind Lamb Or Cod. He will need huge improvement to figure here.
Mountainous bids for an unprecedented third success in the Welsh Grand National here, having slogged his way through heavy ground to victory in the rescheduled running last January. The Kerry Lee trained 11 year old beat Firebird Flyer by 2 ¾ lengths on that occasion, but the following month pulled up in the Grade 3 Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock Park. He was not seen out again until running in the London National at Sandown Park in early December and he pulled up again.
Firebird Flyer ran a cracker in this race last season and has maintained his fine form since. The Evan Williams trained 9 year old pulled up on his seasonal return at Haydock Park in November 2015, but ran much better when 3 ¾ lengths third of 9 to Tour Des Champs in the Welsh Grand National Trial at Chepstow in early December. That pre-empted an excellent effort in the Coral Welsh National itself in early January, as he came home 2 ¾ lengths second of 20 to Mountainous. He had a couple of months off after that and thrived, returning to win the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March by 2 lengths from Milansbar. He ran well on his return to action in testing conditions at Haydock Park in late November, finishing 13 lengths second of 6 to Three Faces West.
Royale Knight race 6th in the 2015 Grand National before pulling up at Sandown Park in the Bet365 Gold Cup later that April but continues to run his best races over long distances. The Dr Richard Newland trained 10 year old finished last of 7 in a handicap hurdle at Fontwell Park in early October but then landed a Sedgefield handicap chase by 2 ¾ lengths from Lackamon later that month. After a break he returned to hurdles at Plumpton in early February, finishing second to West Of The Edge. He then ran in another handicap hurdle at Ascot later that month, when he finished 3 ¼ lengths fifth of 14 to Bangkok Pete in February. In mid-April he contested the Grade 3 Scottish Grand National at Ayr, running well to finish 4 ¾ lengths fourth of 28 to Vicente. He returned to action in a handicap hurdle where he was predictably uncompetitive, coming home a well beaten fifth of 9 to Beneficial Joe. Later that month he was a well beaten 6th of 9 to Buachaill Alainn in the Durham National at Sedgefield. In early December he hinted that he might be returning to form as he finished 17 ½ lengths fourth of 12 behind Harry The Viking in the Scottish Borders National.
Goulanes was a very smart racehorse when trained by David Pipe, but has not raced since March 2014. The 10 year old won the 2013 Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase before finishing 10 lengths 6th to Lord Windermere in that year’s RSA Chase. He struggled in two runs late in 2013, pulling up in the Welsh Grand National in December of that year. He was not seen again until winning the 2014 Midlands Grand National, beating Alpha Victor by 2 ½ lengths. He has not raced again and has moved to the stable of Neil Mulholland. It would be a remarkable performance if he could pull this off.
Raz De Maree really turned back the clock earlier this autumn and commands plenty of respect here. The Gavin Cromwell trained 11 year old showed some indifferent form in the spring but hinted that he was coming back to his best when 3 ¾ lengths second of 10 to As De Pique in a Gowran Park handicap chase in early October. A month later he landed his second Cork Grand National when beating Forever Gold by ½ a length. In late November he contested the Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan, running a decent race to finish 15 lengths 7th of 25 behind Empire Of Dirt.
Emperor’s Choice seems to excel when the mud flies is a former Welsh National winner. The Venetia Williams trained 9 year old showed great resolution to tough out the conditions and win the West Wales National at Ffos Las in February 2014 and after running fourth in the London National at Sandown Park in early December 2014, beat Benvolio by a short head in the Coral Welsh National in late December of that year. He has had just two starts since, and made that a winning return when beating Lackamon by 1 ¾ lengths, at Haydock Park in late November. He raced off a higher mark in the latest edition of the Welsh National and in tough conditions, pulled up like most of the field. Three months later he pulled up again in the Scottish Grand National. He returned to action in the Scottish Borders National at Kelso in early December, finishing a remote 8th of 12 behind Harry The Viking.