THE excitement is building for the county’s biggest spectator sports event, the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow Racecourse on Wednesday (December 27).
Some 12,000 racegoers are expected to attend the biggest horse race in Wales, which dates back 128 years and was first run at the Wye Valley course in 1949.
Last year saw the fourth Welsh win in a row, fans having previously waited 54 years for a home success, with conditional jockey David Prichard keeping his nerve to land the biggest win of his career on 16-1 shot The Two Amigos before announcing his retirement.
Welsh-trained horses won the previous three Nationals – Potters Corner in 2019, Secret Reprieve in 2020 and Iwilldoit in 2021, the latter trained by Gold Cup-winning Abergavenny jockey Sam Thomas, who is entered for another potential tilt with the same horse.
With the confirmations stage whittling the 59 entries for the £150,000 showcase race down to 22 on Thursday, Iwilldoit is set to race after a gallant second over the hurdles on his return to action at Aintree last month.
It would be an emotional win for the jockey-turned-trainer, who was involved in a horror helicopter crash in North Wales in November 2022 alongside owner Dai Walters, who suffered life-threatening injuries but has battled back.
The 10-year-old Iwilldoit lifted the festive showpiece with a brilliant display in 2021, romping to a nine-length win in the hands of Stan Sheppard and is currently a 7-1 shot.
And after second in November’s Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle, Sam said: “I was thrilled and he’s come out of the race at Aintree safe and sound. He had a good spin round and had a good blow and had a good workout, basically.
“The next target for him will be Chepstow now. The plan is to go back for the Welsh National, fingers crossed.
“He’s been a very good horse for us and it’s going to be a lot tougher this year, obviously being higher up in the weights, but we’re thrilled to have such a top-class horse who has always done us proud, really – and he doesn’t owe us anything.
“If we can get him there in good shape, I’m sure he will put in another good performance.”
Last year’s race was held in memory of Kim Gingell, sister of trainer Joe Tizzard, whose horse The Big Breakaway came second last year and who would love to go one better next week.
His father took the crown with Native River and Elegant Escape, and The Big Breakaway is again among the favourites, who are headed by Super Survivor at 9-2 after the withdrawal of Monbeg Genius, who had been one of three entries for Jonjo O’Neill.
Other horses include trainer Paul Nicholls’ Complete Unknown and Truckers Lodge.
In-form Wye Valley trainer Venetia Williams - fresh from watching amateur jockey Lucy Turner become the first woman to ride Becher Chase winner Chambard at Aintree over the Grand National fences - has trained the winner twice in 2000 (Jocks Cross) and 2014 (Emperor’s Choice).
And she is targeting a third win after confirming her Aintree star, plus Didero Vallis and Fontaine Collonges.
Iwilldoit Sam Thomas Complete Unknown Paul Nicholls The Big Breakaway Joe Tizzard The Galloping Bear Ben Clarke Iron Bridge Jonjo O'Neill Nassalam Gary Moore Ashtown Lad Dan Skelton Chambard Venetia Williams Truckers Lodge Paul Nicholls Only The Bold David Pipe Fontaine Collonges Venetia Williams Iceo Madrik David Pipe Super Survivor Jamie Snowden Autonomous Cloud Fergal O'Brien Amateur John Flint Charlie Uberalles Dianne Sayer Wayfinder Rebecca Curtis Blade Runner Chris Gordon Max Dynamo Emma-Jane Bishop Domaine De L'Isle Sean Curran Didero Vallis Venetia Williams Not Sure Kerry Lee
The Coral Welsh Grand National comes under starters orders at 2.50pm. For tickets see www.chepstow-racecourse.co.uk/whats-on/coral-welsh-grand-national