It’s that time of year when the buzz around Welsh National starts to ramp up. An integral part of Wales’ sporting heritage, it is one of the highlights of the British racing calendar.
And whether you consider it the first major National of the season, or the last of the year, there is no doubt that come December 27th, all eyes will be firmly on Chepstow Racecourse.
Run over a distance of three miles and 6½ furlongs, with 23 fences to be jumped, each year a maximum field of 20 horses line up in a bid for glory.
With 59 potential runners entered, those numbers will be whittled down over the next few weeks until we get to the all-important race itself.
There is £85,425 up for grabs for the winner, so just who is really in with a chance of making their way into the history books in 2023?
The Main Welsh National Contenders
Despite what you may think, pinning down the likely favourites for the Welsh National is not as easy as it seems.
Unlike the Aintree Grand National which has more robust trends, winners at Chepstow have ranged in age from 6-years-old to 13-years old in the last ten years.
The weights carried are equally as variable with Iwilldoit carrying 10-00 in 2021 and Native River carrying 11-12 in 2016.
However, largely, winners in this race carry much lower weights with anything under 10-08 a big plus. After all, this is a slog-in-the-mud of a race held in the peak of Winter, and the ground is usually on the boggy side of things.
So the less weight a runner has to carry, the greater the likelihood they won’t run out of steam before the end of the race.
That said, not every horse will fit neatly into a set of pre-prescribed boxes, and one or two will always defy their odds.
The current race favourite is Monbeg Genius from trainer Jonjo O’Neill. Despite a rather less than impressive start to the season, when he pulled up at Ascot on November 4th, he did go into it on impressive form.
The 7-year-old won twice at Chepstow Racecourse last season, so clearly knows how to get around and, as a novice, ran so consistently that his Official Rating rose from 122 to 147 in the space of a year.
But before you think the Welsh National is already in the bag, there are a couple of red flags. He is a stunning horse at 2m7½f, but the National is a mile longer, so it will be a much bigger test of stamina.
He will also be carrying 11-08 which is a tough ask over the distance. Can Jonjo O’Neill Jnr work his magic again and get him over the finishing line?
There’s a good chance he will do well, but others look better value for money.
One horse that stands out more but is flying under the radar a little is Blackjack Magic from trainer Anthony Honeyball.
With ante-post odds generally around the 16/1 mark, you could do worse than taking a closer look at him if you want to put a few quid on him with a reputable bookmaker like Bovada Sportsbook.
While he may be less experienced than some of the other contenders, he made his seasonal return with a solid win at Wincanton over 3m1f.
He has been given a very handy weight of 10-13, and as a solid jumper who has enough left in the tank for the run-in, he could do very well on the day.
A former winner, Iwilldoit, won this race in 2021 before being sidelined for more than a year. However, he is back and on form, having notched up a win at Warwick in January in what can only be described as a very tough race.
3m5f, on heavy ground while carrying 11-10 is enough to suggest that this workhorse still has what it takes to make an impact.
He was most recently seen at Aintree, finishing second in the Pertemps Network Hurdle on November 11th, but it was his race in the Midlands Grand National that really ticked most of the boxes.
At 4m2f, it is one of the longest races in the National Hunt season, and he was burdened with 12 stone. Despite this, he still finished in 5th place, with all four ahead of him on less 10-05.
He’s a stalwart and if he can avoid a mistake, we think he could run a great race at Chepstow, and possibly even win it again.
The Welsh National is a race steeped in history dating back to 1895. The challenging course, often run in difficult winter conditions, adds an element of excitement and unpredictability that sets it apart.
It holds a special place in the hearts of many due to its welcoming and festive atmosphere, making it a must-attend event on the British racing calendar.
As jockeys and horses vie for glory amidst the backdrop of scenic Welsh countryside, this race embodies the enduring passion and spirit of horse racing in Britain.
So if you’re a fan, mark it in your diaries because on December 27th, 2023, another great trio of horse, jockey, and trainer will write themselves into history.
Who exactly they will be remains to be seen, but we’re sure going to have fun finding out!