After a fairly wet December and with further stormy weather predicted, the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on December 28th should again be staged in very soft underfoot conditions. Heavy going often prevails during this time of the year at the track but that does not prevent a significant field usually assembling for the two lap event.
Ante-post favourite is Well Refreshed trained by Gary Moore and is quoted at 8/1 by William Hill. The nine year old performed creditably when third over 3m 5f at Sandown recently but probably reserved his best performance when winning the Haydock Grand National Trial over 3m 4f during February in bottomless ground. A confirmed mudlark and stayer, he should be involved in the finish off a relatively low mark.
Irish raider Goonyella is expected to need every yard of the near 3m 6f distance and will appreciate as much rain as possible. A winner of a race at Punchestown over a similar trip in April, this will be only his second visit to England and will have a sound chance with Coral quoting him at 8/1.
Impressive Haydock winner Sydney Paget is 10/1 with Skybet, but he may be sent to Ireland for the Paddy Power Chase although Donald McCain could re-route him to Chepstow should the weights remain at present.
Emma Lavelle is expected to saddle HIGHLAND LODGE, who will appreciate the anticipated heavy going after a decent fourth in the Hennessy on a much quicker surface. After leading for much of the way at Newbury, he was just outpaced towards the finish and is offered at 9/1 by Ladbrokes to claim this prize as compensation.
Hawkes Point may represent the Paul Nicholls stable and has won over three miles on the track in heavy conditions. He was outpaced on his seasonal debut over three miles at this course on a faster surface and may appreciate this extra distance. Paddy Power price him at 12/1 to win the race.
Softer conditions may also benefit the Jonjo O’Neill trained Merry King who followed home Highland Lodge in the Hennessy and they meet on similar terms. Yet there is just the impression he lacks the required turn of foot in a quality event and a place may be his best hope. He is quoted at 12/1 by BetVictor.
Teaforthree was second last year behind Monbeg Dude and Rebecca Curtis is expecting another solid performance on Saturday. Having not raced since two further demanding races in the Haydock trial and the Grand National itself, his fitness may be suspect for this gruelling contest, and he is offered at 14/1 at BetVictor.
Fitness should not be a problem for Knock A Hand and Mountainous. Both are trained by Richard Lee who saddled Le Beau Bai to win this event in 2011. Knock A Hand is currently 33/1 at Paddy Power despite a recent flawless win at Carlisle which earned him a four pound penalty raising his weight to 10 stone for this race. Mountainous is a consistent animal who will appreciate the conditions and he will have benefited from two preparatory races over shorter than ideal trips. He is 16/1 with Betfred.
Perhaps the most interesting entrant is top weight TIDAL BAY who remains an intended runner for Paul Nicholls despite his 11st 12lb allocation. The veteran chaser was possibly outpaced in the Betfair Chase but he should act on this easier surface and extra distance, having won the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown in 2012 by 15 lengths. Should this character display a similar attitude, the 20/1 quoted by William Hill may be a bargain price.