All Grand National events have a special feel about them, and the Welsh Grand National is certainly no exception to the rule. The race was established in 1895, when the race was held at Ely racecourse in Cardiff. Now taking place at Chepstow racecourse on 27th December, this Grade 3 event understandably has the tagline ‘The Biggest Race in Wales’. The date of the race ties it in nicely with the Christmas season making it a magic event both on course and to watch at home.
There are seven races on the card, and a distinctly Welsh feel throughout (including a performance of the Welsh National Anthem) but the emphasis from both a betting and spectator point of view is on the main event which has a very healthy £150,000 prize. The prize pot ensures that the event, which is for horses aged four and above, attracts plenty of racing talent.
The Welsh Grand National handicap race is run over a distance of 3 miles and 5½ furlongs and features twenty two fences. The first winner at Chepstow in 1949 was Fighting Line ridden by the legendary Dick Francis. David Nicholson holds the distinction of making it three in a row by riding back to back winners in the 1959, 1960 and 1961. Trainers of the winners of the Welsh National over the years reads like a who’s who of racing greats, Martin Pipe, Jenny Pitman, Paul Nicholls, the list goes on.
Fast forward to the present day, and the 2017 event was a real stand out, with James Bowen winning the race at just 17 years of age on Raz De Maree, a 17-1 shot . Bowen’s brother Sean is a very talented jockey too and James, who was signed by Nicky Henderson, is often described as learned beyond his years and a wise head on young shoulders.
Success in the Welsh National is often an indicator of further accolades to come. Bindaree and Silver Birch won both the Welsh and Aintree Grand National races, and success for Native River in 2016 led to the Irish trained thoroughbred winning the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.