Welsh Grand National 2021 Preview

Welsh Grand National 2021 Preview Hot on the heels of the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day comes the second steeplechasing highlight of the festive season, the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow, which is scheduled, weather permitting, for 2:50pm on Monday, December 27. Nowadays run over a distance of 3 miles 6½ furlongs, and 23 fences, the Welsh Grand National remains shorter than its English and Scottish counterparts, but nonetheless represents a thorough test of stamina and jumping ability.

Last year’s comfortable winner, Secret Reprieve, is 6lb higher in the weights this time around, but still looks well treated and, consequently, jointly heads the ante-post market. The main problem with him is that he hasn’t run since January and, given his preference for cut in the ground, the unseasonably dry, mild weather has delayed his return to action. Trainer Evan Williams is reportedly keen to try for a repeat win, but ‘desperate’ to give Secret Reprieve a preparatory run.

The other joint-favourite, Ask Me Early, has his stamina to prove, but has won three of his four starts over regulation fences, including two at Chepstow, and is a progressive young chaser who needs to be taken seriously. He returned to action, following a wind operation, with a narrow win in a novices’ hurdle at Exeter in early November, so should have no fitness issues.

Beyond the market leaders, Yala Enki, who has finished third in the last three renewals of the Welsh Grand National, beaten 5¼ lengths, 2¾ lengths and 3¼ lengths, respectively, takes the eye. Paul Nicholls’ charge is rapidly approaching his twelfth birthday, but is 6lb better off with Secret Reprieve compared with last year and won on his reappearance at Cheltenham in mid-November. Long-priced winners of the Welsh Grand National have been something of a rarity in recent years, but if there is to be a shock result he could be the one to provide it.


Stradivarius In recent seasons, Stradivarius has dominated the staying division of British Flat racing to such an extent that he has won the so-called ‘Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million’ twice, over and above £2.62 million in winning prize money alone. Inaugurated in 2018, the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million offers, as the name suggests, a prize of £1 million for any ‘staying’ horse that wins any one of four nominated races in May, plus the Gold Cup at Ascot, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup at York.

That year, Stradivarius won the Yorkshire Cup at York in May, followed by the latter three races to become the first horse to win all four races in the same season and repeated the feat in 2019 to claim the £1 million bonus for the second consecutive season. Indeed, between May, 2018 and September, 2019, he won ten races in a row – before an agonising nose defeat by Kew Gardens in the British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot – and was, unsurprisingly, named Cartier Champion Stayer in both 2018 and 2019.

Bred and owned by Bjorn Nielson and trained by John Gosden in Newmarket, Stradivarius broke his maiden at the third time of asking, coming out best in a three-way photograph in a lowly two-year-old maiden stakes race at Newcastle in November, 2016. However, he officially improved by 40lb during his three-year-old campaign, winning the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and the Goodwood Cup – his first Group One victory – en route to finishing third, beaten half a length and a short head, in the St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster. As of October 11, 2020, he was the fourth-highest rated Flat horse in Europe, behind just Battaash, Ghaiyyath and the three-year-old Palace Pier, according to Timeform.

All Things Seem Possible in May

All Things Seem Possible in May By his own admission, veteran Newmarket trainer Sir Michael Stoute has ‘been at it a long time’. In fact, the worldly-wise Barbadian first took out a public training licence, in his own right, in 1972 and, in career spanning five decades, has been crowned Champion Trainer ten times, most recently in 2009. In June, 2018, Stoute also became the most successful trainer of all time at Royal Ascot, beating the previous record held by the late Sir Henry Cecil; he has since recorded four more victories to take his career tally to 80 winners at the Royal Meeting.

One oft-repeated pearl of wisdom regarding the master of Freemason Lodge – repeated, that is, by many learned judges, including the scribes at Timeform – involves his performance during the month of May in any given season. Stoute is renowned for his patient, unhurried approach to training, but typically starts to unveil his better horses from early May onwards which, nowadays, coincides with the start of the official Flat season at the Guineas Festival at Newmarket.

The theory goes that by blindly backing every horse saddled by Stoute during May, punters can generate a profit, almost without thinking about it. That may well have been true in the past, especially during the early Noughties, but closer inspection of the results from the last decade or so suggests that caution is required. In fact, since 2010, Sir Michael Stoute has recorded a level stakes profit in May just three times and blindly backing ever runner in that period produced a level stakes loss of 32.39 points. However, two of the last three years produced healthy profits, of 48.20 points in May, 2017, and 31.70 points in May, 2019.