Graham Dench's top ten Coral Welsh Grand National winners

Leading racing writer Graham Dench gives his verdict on the best winners of the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

  • Monday 21 December
  • Blog
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Some of the outstanding staying chasers of modern times have graced the Welsh Grand National winners’ board since Coral began the longest-running sponsorship in jump racing in 1973, and a top ten isn’t really sufficient to do the race justice.

Where are Corbiere, Run And Skip and Stearsby you might ask if you were a follower of the sport in the 1980s? Where are Bindaree, Silver Birch, Halcon Genelardais and Miko De Beauchene?

Well they, and many more, were considered, and they were passed over only reluctantly.

Watch the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Saturday 9th January.

10 EARTH SUMMIT (1997) Nigel Twiston-Davies

Earth Summit ran in the Welsh National every year it took place between 1994, when he was second to Master Oats, and 1999, when he was making his swansong. His 1997 defeat of Dom Samourai, when he was in the firing line from start to finish in typically testing ground, was a thoroughly worthy performance, and three months later he underlined his credentials as an out-an-out stayer by beating Suny Bay at Aintree. Uniquely I believe, he also won a Scottish National - as a novice at that, and on very different ground.

9 RAG TRADE (1976) Fred Rimell

We’ve become accustomed to abandonments leading to the Welsh National being run in the New Year, but when Rag Trade won it in 1976 it was routinely scheduled for a mid-February Saturday, on the same day as Newcastle’s Eider Chase. Though both races catered for a near identical pool of horses, there was nothing uncompetitive about the field Rag Trade beat at Chepstow, and his two-and-a-half length defeat of Even Up under 11st 2lb set him up perfectly for the Grand National just six weeks later, where he denied a certain Red Rum by two lengths (see clip below for Aintree victory).

8 COOL GROUND (1990) Reg Akehurst

Some are in this list for what they did on the day, while others have been included in part at least for what they went on to achieve. Cool Ground falls into the latter category, although he certainly wasn’t a bad winner. Carrying just 10st, almost all of it comprising our own Luke Harvey, the former Kim Muir winner was clear from three out and scored by seven lengths from hot favourite Carrick Hill Lad. Luke and Cool Ground went on to be fourth in the Gold Cup, but by the time Cool Ground enjoyed that memorable success in the 1992 Cheltenham showpiece Cool Ground was in different hands. Bafflingly Toby Balding preferred Adrian Maguire to Luke.

7 PLAYSCHOOL (1987) David Barons

The 1980s was something of a golden era for the Welsh National, and for his sheer class Playschool gets the nod in this list ahead of Aintree hero Corbiere, and chasers from the same decade as good as Righthand Man, Run And Skip and Stearsby. Playschool carried a penalty for his Hennessy win when Paul Nicholls partnered him to a gritty length defeat of the subsequent Grand National winner Rhyme ‘N’ Reason (received 11lb)  at Chepstow. Next time out the pair beat Forgive’N Forget in the Vincent O’Brien Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, and on the strength of that Playschool was favourite for the Gold Cup itself. Many maintain he was doped at Cheltenham.

6 BONANZA BOY (1988 and 1989) Martin Pipe

Bonanza Boy was not the first dual winner of the Welsh National, but he was the first and only horse to win it in successive years. It’s hard to credit it, but when beating the 1985 winner Run And Skip by 12 lengths in 1988 the weights were so compressed by the former Gold Cup winner The Thinker that Bonanza Boy raced from 6lb out of the proper handicap, despite having been classy enough to finish third in that year’s Stayers’ Hurdle. Twelve months later he had 11st 11lb and was conceding upwards of 18lb all round, but he won by an even wider margin, from subsequent Welsh National and Gold Cup winner Cool Ground. He was without doubt one of the toughest stayers of his era.

5 SYNCHRONISED (2010) Jonjo O’Neill

Synchronised’s hard-fought win in a gruelling Midlands National had already established him as a thorough stayer who seemed very much at home in testing ground, and he started second favourite for the 2010 Welsh National (actually run in January 2011). Despite a 7lb higher mark, he found it a bit easier than at Uttoxeter and won decisively from the luckless Giles Cross, who was second again a year later. Remarkably, the following season’s wins over much shorter in admittedly non-vintage runnings of the Lexus Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup were achieved on good ground.

Synchronised, 2010 Welsh National winner
AP McCoy celebrates Coral Welsh Grand National glory aboard Synchronised.

4 NATIVE RIVER (2016) Colin Tizzard

The memory of Native River’s ruthless taking apart of a 20-runner field are so fresh that it’s hard to believe it was four years ago. It’s true he had a lot going for him - unpenalised for his Hennessy win and 8lb well in - but only one six-year-old had ever won the race before, and only Carvill’s Hill had defied as big a weight. Native River didn’t win in quite Carvill’s Hill fashion, but he was much more impressive than the length-and-three-quarter margin over strong-finishing 2017 winner Raz De Maree might suggest, having been in front for well over a circuit and well clear from four out. He and Richard Johnson were and are made for each other, and their fabulous win in the 2018 Gold Cup underlined the point.

3 MASTER OATS (1994) Kim Bailey

Chepstow’s abandonment saw the 1994 Welsh National switched to Newbury. It nearly didn’t take place at all as day one of a two-day meeting was lost to waterlogging, but they say that ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going’, and that was certainly the case with Master Oats, for whom the going could not be too testing. Unusually, there were only eight runners, but the ease with which Master Oats scored from future Grand National winner Earth Summit and former Grand National winner Party Politics had to be seen to be believed. Two and a half months later he confirmed himself one of the very best chasers of the modern era with a 15-length win in the Gold Cup.

2 BURROUGH HILL LAD (1983) Jenny Pitman

Burrough Hill Lad’s Welsh National would not rank among the race’s great weight carrying performances, for even allowing for John Francome’s 3lb overweight he was receiving 10lb from four-length runner-up Royal Judgment. However, he won with ease, and success at Chepstow set in train a series of wins that will never be repeated. Improving at a rate of knots, Burrough Hill Lad added two top handicaps at Sandown, the Jim Ford at Wincanton and the Cheltenham Gold Cup Gold the same season, then returned from a break to add the Silver Buck, the Hennessy, the Charlie Hall (then run in December) and the King George before the year was out.

1 CARVILL’S HILL (1991) Martin Pipe

The word ‘awesome’ is trotted out all too often nowadays, but how better to  describe Carvill’s Hill’s extraordinary win in 1991. Carrying a record equalling 11st 12lb, including a penalty for his recent Rehearsal Chase win, the injury prone former Irish Grade 1 winner was sent straight out into a long lead by Peter Scudamore and set such a merciless gallop that none of his 16 rivals in a quality field could live with. His winning margin over the same season’s Grand National winner Party Politics and former Cheltenham Festival winner Aquilifer was a gaping 20 lengths, and there were another 20 lengths back to Bonanza Boy, who was bidding for a third win in the race. Another former Welsh National winner Cool Ground, who just three months later won the Gold Cup, joined Twin Oaks, Kildimo and The West Awake among top chasers who had given up the ghost with a mile or more to go. Quite possibly the handicap performance of my racing life.

Watch the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Saturday 9th January.

Graham Dench's top ten Coral Welsh Grand National winners
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