If ever a trainer deserves to land a major Grand National then it has to be Evan Williams and the Welsh trainer might never have a better chance to break his duck than at Chepstow this Saturday.
Williams hit the frame in five successive Aintree Grand Nationals between 2009 and 2013 with grand servants State Of Play (three times) and Cappa Bleu (twice), and he’s saddled several horses that have run extremely well in defeat in the Welsh edition, the pick of which is Firebird Flyer who was runner-up in 2016 (won the Midlands National earlier the same season).
None of the above were anything like as well handicapped as Secret Reprieve who is officially 8lb ‘well in’ on Saturday and the improving son of Flemensfirth is understandably all the rage in ante-post Welsh National betting lists.
Williams, who is also represented by last year’s fourth Prime Venture, thinks Secret Reprieve is ‘a ridiculously short price at 7/2’ but the wily Welshman also knows that well-handicapped horses are gold dust in races that are normally choc full of exposed runners.
Secret Reprieve is unbeaten in two runs at Chepstow, both of which came on heavy ground and he looked a staying chaser to follow when hosing up at the Welsh venue early in December. That win came over a trip just shy of three miles and although we don’t have any evidence that the seven-year-old will stay this longer trip, the signs are promising and his shrewd trainer instinctively thinks he will.
With only five chase outings under his belt, he is undoubtedly one of the least experienced runners in the field but that’s the trade-off, he would be carrying a good deal more weight here if he had run in more chases thus far.
Williams has had Grade 1 winners, most recently with Silver Streak who landed the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, but I get the impression that victory in a Welsh Grand National would be right up there with his best moments since turning to training in 2003.
Christmas Would Be An Emotional Hero
However, for all that a Welsh National win would be momentous for Evan Williams’ team, there is an even bigger human-interest story at play in Saturday’s feature.
In case you didn’t know, this year’s edition of the Welsh Grand National will be run in memory of Kim Gingell, daughter of trainer Colin Tizzard, who lost her battle with cancer earlier this year.
With that in mind, who could even dream of begrudging the Tizzard team of what would surely be a hugely emotional success with their one representative, Christmas In April.
Christmas In April isn’t as unexposed and well-handicapped as Secret Reprieve but it looks as though this race has been the plan for some time and he comes here a fresh horse having only had the one ‘get it ready’ run since being pulled up in the Midlands National in Uttoxeter.
His best performance came at Exeter last year where he ran away with the Devon National down at Exeter so we know he’ll be fine in the conditions and we know he’ll stay.
Colin Tizzard’s runner is 7lb higher now but he’d have won that Exeter race with 7lb more on his back and it’s not at all difficult to see this strong-travelling nine-year-old providing the team with a success that would mean so much to everyone down at their Dorset base.
Yggdrasil Could Provide Williams With More Finale Glory
The Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle (1.25) is the other big race on Chepstow’s card and all eyes will be on the Gary Moore-trained Nassalam who has looked a potential star in winning his two hurdle runs this winter by a combined distance of 108 lengths.
He has looked a natural and is undoubtedly a hugely exciting animal for the Moore team but he’s been beating up vastly inferior rivals and we’re going to learn a lot more about his Triumph Hurdle credentials on Saturday. If you fancy him on Saturday then you might want to take the 14/1 currently available about him in the Triumph because he’ll be a single-figure price if he wins this.
However, he’s a 5/4 chance on Saturday and is begging to be taken on given the doubts about the strength of his form and the one to take him on with is Yggdrasil who shaped very nicely behind the re-opposing Elham Valley at Sandown on debut.
Yggdrasil raced quite keenly off a steady gallop that day but stuck to his guns nicely from off the pace in the closing stages, giving the impression that he will be seen to much better effect in a more evenly run contest, which he ought to get here.
He is a half-brother to the stable’s 2019 Cheltenham Festival winner Siruh Du Lac so may well end up over fences but his canny trainer, who won this race with Le Rocher in 2013, must think he has another good one on his hands to pitch the four-year-old into Grade 1 company on the back of that debut run.