Welsh Grand Nationals run on going featuring the word 'good' in the description are not unheard of - we have had four of them since the turn of the century - but they have certainly been a rarer occurrence in recent years, with the going being either soft or heavy by Timeform's reckoning in the last seven renewals.
Colin Tizzard reportedly won't run current favourite Native River if the ground is very testing, and he has left his Hennessy Gold Cup winner in the race in the hope that the going remains on the quicker side. The weather gods seem to be on his side, as the going at Chepstow is currently good to soft (as of Thursday afternoon), with only some moderate rain forecast between now and Tuesday.
If Native River runs - which it looks increasingly likely that he will - he is able to race off the same mark as he won the Hennessy off due to the conditions of the race, which state that no penalty can increase a horse's racing weight to more than 11st 12 lb. Native River was due to carry a 4-lb penalty for his Newbury win, but is now effectively 8 lb 'well-in' on his official mark (due to be raised to a BHA mark of 163 in future) and, unsurprisingly, tops the Timeform weight-adjusted ratings as a result. He has looked a better horse since being partnered by Richard Johnson and reverting to front-running tactics (won the Mildmay on his final start of 2015/16 too), and with such tactics often seen to good effect in the Welsh National, he should be hard to beat.
It remains to be seen if Arpege d'Alene will take his chance at Chepstow or whether he will prepared for his reported targets in the spring (the likes of the National Hunt Chase and the Scottish National have been mentioned), but he would be a big player if showing up here (possibly the biggest threat to Native River), having looked all about stamina when second in a useful novice at Cheltenham earlier in the month.
Shotgun Paddy is lurking on a dangerous mark, 6 lb lower than when third in this race last season, and there were no signs of his typical jumping errors on his reappearance at Cheltenham in November. He is BHA-rated in the high-130s and should sneak in at the bottom of the weights, which also goes for Viva Steve, who made the perfect start for his new yard when winning at Ayr last month. Fergal O'Brien is enjoying an excellent season (he's already sent out seven more winners in 2016/17 than he did last term) and it would be no surprise to see Viva Steve have more to offer for him, though it is worth noting that his stamina did seem to be stretched in last season's National Hunt Chase. Another yard going great guns this season is that of Tom Lacey, though his Kaki de la Pree may struggle to get into the final field off 135. He is still lightly raced and looks worth a try in a long-distance handicap after his good second at Bangor.
One who is certain to get in to the race is Carole's Destrier, who was beaten just half a length by Native River at Newbury. He meets the favourite on the same terms here and is proven over this trip (won the London National at Sandown last season), but Native River was idling in front in the Hennessy and Carole's Destrier probably needs to find more if the favourite runs his race again.
Others to mention include the lightly-raced Onenightinvienna, who showed smart form last season but unseated in the Grand National on his final start. He got back on track in a two-runner race at Carlisle last time, however, and remains unexposed. Last year's second Firebird Flyer shaped well on his return at Haydock last time behind Three Faces West (conceded a significant head start), and should come on for that.
Overall, though, the fact that Native River is able to race off his Hennessy-winning mark makes him a mightily tempting proposition. With the prominent tactics often deployed with him these days set to stand him in good stead, and the ground seemingly staying in his favour, he is a solid favourite and hard to oppose at this stage, for all that Arpege d'Alene would be a big threat if he did run.
Back Native River for the Welsh Grand National