Welsh Grand National Betting and Odds Focus: Secret Reprieve to defend title with no prep run

Chepstow is getting ready for the Welsh Grand National and Planet Sport are on hand with all the latest tips, betting news and odds as Evan Williams go for back-to-back wins for Secret Reprieve.

Be sure to check in with Planet Sport's rolling blog each day for all the betting news, tips and odds as the Coral Welsh National approaches on Monday, December 27.

Lack Of Prep runs for Secret Reprieve but reigning champ will go for it

Evan Williams' seven-year-old Secret Reprieve has not run since winning the Welsh Grand National in January, after waterlogging caused the postponement of the fixture from its usual post-Christmas slot.

In front of empty grandstands, Secret Reprieve justified his position as the 5-2 favourite as he overcame a broken breast-girth to stay on convincingly and record a three-length success in the hands of Adam Wedge.

Dry weather and unsuitably good ground have prevented Williams from running the bay since that success, but the trainer has form for producing a big run from a fresh horse as State Of Play won the Ladbrokes Trophy, then known as the Hennessy, on his first run of the campaign in 2006.

"I would loved to have got a run under his belt, but I haven't been able to do that because the ground has been far too dry for us. That's the situation we're in and everything else is fine," Williams said on a press call hosted by Great British Racing.

"We were thinking about Cheltenham and then the Grand National, it looked like that job might happen and we missed the cut - the field was the only option then. He's come in and he's done his work all through the autumn. I would dearly have liked to have gone for a run somewhere but the weather was just against us.

"Some horses need the confidence of running in races and winning and that gets them there, other horses you can slot in because they are good enough to slot in and I think if you're classy enough, then you will get away with it.

"State Of Play won a Hennessy without a run and I keep clinging on to that. That was a good while ago and we weren't as well known then, but they said that was impossible and nothing, absolutely nothing, in horse racing is impossible."

Secret Reprieve runs off a mark of 140 this time around, some 6lb higher than in January, but the presence of 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River at the head of the field means Williams' runner will still be lightly weighted.

"I think the best horse in the race is the top (weight) horse (Native River), it makes the race a very classy race because he is a very classy animal," he said.

"He's a Gold Cup winner and I think he has an outstanding chance.

Native River to go with the flow carrying top weight

11-year-old Native River is to carry as many stones as he has years in pursuit of the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on Sunday.

Colin Tizzard's 11-year-old took the prize in 2016 and the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero is one of four past winners of the Welsh National among the confirmations. He will carry 11-12 in Wales.

The others are stablemate Elegant Escape (2018), Christian Williams' Potters Corner (2019) and Secret Reprieve last winter.

Potters Corner ran his best race for some time when only beaten a nose by Diesel D'Allier in a cross-country chase at Cheltenham earlier this month.

Williams hopes there is plenty of rain before the race and has the Unibet Veterans' Handicap Chase Final at Sandown on January 8 as a back-up.

"He seems well and it's all systems go. He looked back on track at Cheltenham," said the Glamorgan handler.

"We think he's well-handicapped now and we're pleased with him. He's coming to the boil now. We're just waiting for some soft ground.

"We've got the veterans' final at Sandown as well so we've got two options."

Truckers Lodge, runner-up in 2019, is one of two possibles for Paul Nicholls along with Highland Hunter.

Others in the mix include Lucinda Russell's Mighty Thunder, winner of last season's Scottish Grand National, Tom Lacey's Kimberlite Candy, Venetia Williams' pair of Achille and Hold That Taught and the Sam Thomas-trained Iwilldoit, winner of the Welsh National Trial at Chepstow.

David Pipe has left in five - Ramses De Teillee, Via Dolorosa, Abaya Du Mathan, D'Jango and El Paso Wood - and there are two Irish representatives - Peter Fahey's The Big Dog and the Jessica Harrington-trained Discordantly.

Chepstow facing the financial reality of locked out punters

Chepstow Racecourse Executive Director Phil Bell was keeping positive yet realistic following the news the Coral Welsh National will take place without spectators for the second successive year on Monday.

The Welsh government has confirmed all sporting events in Wales will be held behind closed doors from Boxing Day due to the surge in coronavirus cases.

It was a decision Chepstow had feared would be made in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

"In the last 48 hours it was leaning towards closed doors so I was beginning to get my head around it," Bell told Sky Sports Racing.

"At the weekend it looked like there was a possibility of reduced crowds, maybe 4,000, but the mood music yesterday was going in the wrong direction and that's what has happened."

More than 6,000 tickets had been sold in advance of this year's meeting, but it will now once again take place without a crowd.

"We've had up to 12,000 people for the Welsh National meeting in recent years, an average of around 10,000. Hospitality had been sold out for about a month," Bell went on.

"Most of the racecourse was ready to go. We've been having marquees erected for the last three weeks plus all the portable toilets, outside bars and food outlets.

"It's been a month's worth of hard work in terms of putting the site ready which is now going to go to waste.

"The one thing about the financial impact is we are talking to the Welsh Government about a compensation package. We've been asked to supply our cost and revenue losses to them and that's going into the mix for a decision.

"It's an expensive race meeting to put on. We've spent £40,000 on marquees alone - one small element of the event. That's a help they are aware there are significant losses involved."

Chepstow prepared for quiet stands as Welsh National goes behind closed doors

A second successive Coral Welsh National will take place on Monday without a crowd with the event going behind closed doors due to the ongoing Covid:19 pandemic.

The Welsh government has confirmed all sporting events in Wales will be held behind closed doors from Boxing Day due to the surge in coronavirus cases.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething announced the new measures for indoor and outdoor sporting events in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Gething said: "Sporting events over the Christmas period are one of the big highlights of the year. Unfortunately, the new Omicron variant is a significant development in the pandemic and could cause a large number of infections.

"We need to do everything we can to protect people's health and control the spread of this awful virus.

"Throughout the pandemic we have followed scientific and public health advice to keep people safe. The advice is clear - we need to act now in response to the threat of Omicron. We are giving people as much notice of these decisions as we can.

"Crowds will come back as soon as possible. We want everyone to be here to enjoy their favourite sports."

Traditionally staged on December 27, the Welsh Grand National is the highlight of the year at Chepstow.

With the course waterlogged 12 months ago, last season's renewal was rescheduled to take place in early January, but there were no paying customers on course to witness the impressive victory of the Evan Williams-trained Secret Reprieve.

More than 6,000 tickets have been sold in advance of this year's meeting, but it will now once again take place without a crowd.

Chepstow Racecourse posted on Twitter: "Following the Welsh Government's announcement, fixtures until mid-January will be run behind closed doors, without spectators, including the Coral Welsh Grand National. We'll be contacting impacted customers very soon."

Things looking up for Brace's Colorado Doc

It will be a Brace family affair when Colorado Doc is ridden by Connor Brace in the Coral Welsh Grand National on Monday, December 27.

The bay chaser is entered for the staying marathon at Chepstow on December 27, a race that will hopefully provide a welcome change of fortune for his young rider, who has dealt admirably with injury setbacks.

Bred, owned and trained by Brace's grandfather David, Colorado Doc and his jockey are well acquainted as Brace was present shortly after he was born at David's Dunraven Stud in Bridgend, Wales.

"I'm not sure if I was definitely there when he was foaled, but I'd have definitely been there the next day," he said.

"I would have been foaling down with my gramp. Paint The Dream, who we also have and will probably run on the same day with Ferg (O'Brien), I foaled him down.

"I was always about the place when the mares were foaling and it's mad that we're running Colorado Doc in a Welsh National now."

After a successful spell point to pointing, where the horse was never beaten when completing, the gelding teamed up with Brace for his first run under rules when denied by just a neck in a 2019 Ffos Las maiden hurdle.

"I've been riding him for a few years now, I've won a couple of races on him. When I was back at home and I was pointing I did a lot of work with him as well," Brace said.

"I think it was at Ffos Las (his debut), I actually got beaten that day but I've had a lot to do with him.

"Back when he was pointing, if he didn't fall he'd win, basically. From his first few runs under rules he's been very consistent. We found a couple of things wrong with him, he fell and pulled up a couple of times and we sorted all that out, since then he's been back and running very well. We couldn't be happier with him going into the race.

"I've ridden him in all his runs under rules, I've won a couple on him as well and as long as he stays I'll think he'll have a really good chance in the National."

The 10-year-old was last seen finishing second to Sam Thomas' Iwilldoit in the Welsh National Trial at Chepstow in early December, gaining valuable experience around the same track as the big race itself.

Colorado Doc will run off a rating of 134, leaving him to carry just 10st should he make the cut when the final field takes shape.

"I was really pleased with him that day, it was only seven days after he ran at Newbury and we were risking it a bit, but we thought it looked like it had cut up a little bit on paper. We couldn't have been happier with him, he jumped very well and was just beaten by quite a good horse on the day," Brace said.

"The confirmations are on Tuesday - we'll know a lot more then (about getting in), but it's probably looking more likely that he will than he won't. We'll have everything crossed, anyway.

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