Big Race History: Welsh National

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"There hadn’t been a dual-winner since 1961 until the Martin Pipe-trained Bonanza Boy put up a staggering performance to win the 1999 race by 15 lengths off top weight"

The Welsh National is, as might be expected, a good pointer to the Grand National itself. It has a also been won by Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Burrough Hill Lad, Cool Ground and Master Oats. Malcolm Pannett examines the roll-call of Chepstow's staying showpiece.

A massive crowd thronged to see the first Welsh National which was staged at Cardiff's Ely racecourse in 1895. The race went to Deerstalker owned by Tom Cannon and ridden by George Mawson.

The next year the great Cloister (1896), winner of the 1893 Grand National, obliged and in the process gained revenge on Father O'Flynn who had beaten him in the 1892 Grand National. The Welsh National was an immediate hit and carried on succesfully until 1939 when the race was put on ice due to the hostilities.

After the war the Welsh National would have returned to Ely but a spell of harsh winter weather put paid to that and when the race finally resumed in 1948 it was at Caerleon, just north of Newport, with the Ryan Price-trained Bora's Cottage taking the spoils at 100/8.

The next year the race moved to its current home at Chepstow with Fighting Line (1949) taking the honours ridden by Dick Francis. The jockey would win again on Crudwell (1956) only weeks after the Devon Loch incident at Aintree which would lead, via an autobiography, to a second career as a renowned racing thriller writer.

In 1961 Limonali (1959 and 1961) became the first dual winner at Chepstow with jockey David Nicholson completing a personal hat-trick having also ridden Clover Bud to victory in the intervening year.

Notable winners during this period include Happy Spring (1967), the winner of the 1969 Midlands National, and Royal Toss (1971), who finished second to Glencaraig Lady in the 1972 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

By this time the race, which had previously been run in April, was moved by the Clerk of the Course John Hughes to February to avoid clashing with the Grand National and the Scottish National. However due to bad weather, only one renewal was staged between 1975 and 1979.

It was though a memorable one with Rag Trade (1976) winning after Gylippus had fallen at the last when still in the lead. Fred Rimell's charge added to his spoils at Aintree taking the Grand National at the expense of Red Rum.

On the back of the 1979 abandonment the decision was taken to move the race to the following December with the Paul Barton-partnered Peter Scott (1979) coming out on top after a ferocious gallop with Current Gold second, Prince Rock third and Master Smudge - who would win the same season's Cheltenham Gold Cup by default - back in fourth.

After Narvik (1980) had given John Francome the first of his two victories in the race the event was moved to its current time slot of two days after Boxing Day neatly following on from Kempton's King George VI Chase and Christmas Hurdle meeting.

In 1981 the Helen Hamilton-trained Peaty Sandy overcame a ten hour-journey, including a four-mile walk through snow, to become the first Scottish-trained winner and the first of four in a row trained by women in a period that produced many memorable winners.

Jenny Pitman, who had come close with Gylippus, first won with Corbiere (1982), who went on to win the 1984 Grand National and finish third in next two; then Burrough Hill Lad (1983) the subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup, Hennessy and King George VI Chase winner in 1984. They were followed by the Monica Dickinson-trained Righthand Man (see below). Two years later Pitman won again with Stearsby (1986).

There hadn't been a dual-winner since 1961 until the Martin Pipe-trained Bonanza Boy (1988 and 1999) put up a staggering performance to win the 1999 race by 15 lengths off top weight.

This was the beginning of a great run for Pipe who won the race five times in six years the other winners being; Carvill's Hill (1991), the three-time Grade 1 winner beat Party Politics - who would go onto win that season's Grand National - and was sent off favourite in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the back of this performance and his subsequent win in the Irish Hennessy; Run For Free (1992) who went on to add Scottish Grand National; and the useful Riverside Boy (1993) who had been second to Run For Free the year before.

Other notable winners during this time include: Run And Skip (1985) who added the Anthony Mildmay, Peter Cazalet Memorial Chase before finishing a close fourth in Dawn Run's memorable Cheltenham Gold Cup win the following season; Playschool (1987) the Hennessy winner who beat subsequent Grand National-winner Rhyme 'N' Reason into second place; Cool Ground (1990) the 1992 Cheltenham Gold Cup; Master Oats (1994), whose victory came at Newbury after Chepstow was called off because of frost, went on to win that season's Cheltenham Gold Cup; Supreme Glory (2001) also placed in Scottish National and Grand National; and Bindaree (2003) the 2002 Grand National-winner.

1994-winner Earth Summit deserves a special mention as the only horse to win the Grand National as well as the Scottish and Welsh versions.

Despite the calendar move the race was still lost to the weather in 1995 and 1996.

25 years ago -Righthand Man, trained by Monica Dickinson, won by seven lengths from Lucky Vane with stablemate Planet Man third. The last named still led by several lengths at the fourth last before making a bad mistake. Righthand Man however was still on the bridle and would probably have won anyway. The son of Proverb went on to run creditably in the Cheltenham Gold Cup staying on well, after being outpaced, into a threatening second place behind Forgive N' Forget.

10 years ago - Edmond made all to win in the hands of Richard Johnson. Favourite Young Kenny ran inexplicably badly, while previous winners Earth Summit and Kendal Cavalier didn't fare much better, so once Earthmover had made his customary mistake the way was left clear for Henry Daly's lightweight to come home ten lengths clear of the blinkered first-time Forest Ivory.

Five years ago - Paul Nicholls, who had ridden Hennessy-winner Playschool to victory in 1987, trained his first winner of the Welsh National with Silver Birch. The son of Clearly Bust overtook Strong Resolve three out staying on well to win by two lengths with Chives third and another Nicholls inmate L'Aventure finishing fourth. The latter returned to win the following year to give Nicholls a quick double. However the winner left Nicholls after falling in Numbersixvalverde's Grand National only to return the following year to win the Aintree showpiece for Irish-trainer Gordon Elliott.

Last year - Jim Dreaper's Notre Pere obliged, despite a few jumping errors, winning by seven lengths from the near triple dead-heat for third where Cornish Sett got the nod ahead of Halcon Genelardais and Officier De Resrve - the three separated by two noses. Notre Pere crowned his season by winning the Grade 1 Punchestown Gold Cup.

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