Trainer Venetia Williams is no stranger to Christmas success and has a clear leader in the search for Welsh National best bets.
The Welsh Grand National is a Grade 3 handicap chase run at Chepstow, over a distance of about 3 miles 5½ furlongs with 22 fences to be jumped. The race was first run in 1895 moving Chepstow in 1949.
Originally run on Easter Tuesday, it was moved to February in 1969 with the aim of attracting better horses, and has been sponsored by bookmakers Coral from 1973, making it the longest continuous sponsorship in jump racing.
It was moved to late December in 1979, after that year's original fixture was abandoned due to snow. The meeting is now held the day after Boxing Day on December 27, and since then the class of runners has improved further, making it an informative guide to future races such as the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Since then, Burrough Hill Lad, Cool Ground, Master Oats, Synchronised and Native River have all taken the Welsh National en route to Cheltenham Festival glory (Master Oats won a rearranged contest run at Newbury in 1994).
The Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly the Hennessy), the Rehearsal Chase (one of the principal races at Chepstow before being moved to Newcastle), Sandown’s London National, and the Welsh Grand National Trial run at the course in early December are obvious stepping stones, while recent Irish winners Raz de Maree and Notre Pere came via the Cork Grand National and Troytown Chase respectively.
With Ladbrokes Trophy winner Sizing Tennessee set to miss the race, the Welsh Grand National odds are headed by the David Pipe-trained Ramses De Teillee (8/1 Paddy Power), who won Chepstow’s Welsh National Trial earlier this month.
The son of Martaline clearly relishes the mud, and showed a likeable attitude to grind out victory. The weights were already published for this event when he won, so the six-year-old will be 3lb well in compared to his adjusted mark. Given his age, one would expect further progress, and he deserves his position at the top of the betting.
Elegant Escape (12/1 BetVictor) is another with obvious claims, having finished a fine second to stablemate Sizing Tennessee at Newbury, after beating Ladbrokes Trophy favourite Thomas Patrick on his return at Sandown.
He was carrying a penalty for that win at Newbury, but is not so encumbered now, and will be able to race off a 4lb lower mark as a result. That makes the second-season chaser look very well-treated, and he’s shown on both starts this season that he stays very well.
The longer trip at Chepstow will be right up his street, so the only concern is how well he will have recovered after a hard race, but he’s young enough to shrug that aside, and needs maximum respect. He looks the best bet.
Folsom Blue (12/1 Bet365) was fourth in the Irish National over this trip at Fairyhouse, and has been kept over hurdles in two subsequent starts by Gordon Elliott. The 11-year-old may be having his mark protected for the Grand National at Aintree, but the biggest danger with one his age is that he will drop in the weights and miss the cut at Aintree, so there are two ways of viewing his campaign.
He stays well and hasn’t done a lot wrong for his current yard, but there is no mileage in backing exposed veterans in races like this, in my opinion.
Scottish Grand National third Vintage Clouds (12/1 Coral) was back to winning ways at Haydock late last month, and needs a second look, having finished a creditable fourth in this race last year. He is creeping up the handicap, however, and is another 3lb higher for his latest hard-fought win, and 6lb higher than when beaten over 16 lengths behind Raz de Maree 12 months ago.
Otago Trail (25/1 Coral) represents the Venetia Williams yard, which has a good record in the Welsh National, winning with Jocks Cross and Emperor’s Choice since 2000, and this dour stayer has the right profile.
He was a fine third in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle after a long absence earlier this month, jumping and travelling with enthusiasm.
There’s always a worry about such horses backing up relatively quickly, but that was a most encouraging return, and he is the sort to relish a war of attrition on testing ground, as is the case with so many of his trainer’s better horses.
He beat Bristol de Mai in the Rehearsal Chase in 2016, and was second to that rival in Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase in January 2017 before injury intervened, and he looks very well-treated based on that rival’s subsequent exploits.
Ms Parfois (14/1 Unibet) was beaten 40 lengths in the Ladbrokes Trophy and looks high in the weights on that evidence, having danced every dance as a novice. She is also too short in the betting at present, for all she should be better for a run.
It’s interesting that Duel At Dawn (20/1 Paddy Power) was favourite to beat Ms Parfois when the pair met at Warwick last February, but can now meet her on 9lb better terms. He failed to fire in the 4-miler at Cheltenham, but is fairly treated on his overall form, and is another who could improve for the severe test, assuming his jumping holds up. He’s interesting, but not the best bet - in the antepost betting.
Many to consider for our best bets, but few as obvious as the improving Elegant Escape, who is able to run off a 4lb lower mark than when second in the Ladbrokes Trophy, and he has the ideal profile for such a test.
Duel At Dawn and Otago Trail appeal most of those at bigger prices, with the former perhaps best left until the day - given the discrepancy between his fixed-odds and exchange odds at present.
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