With racecourses at Bangor, Chepstow and Ffos Las, Wales is a big part of the British National Hunt season in the UK.
The highlight of the action in Wales in the Welsh Grand National which is held annually during the festive programme at Chepstow. The winner of that race normally goes on to be one of the favourites for the Grand National at Aintree later in the campaign.
Although in terms of numbers, there are fewer horses trained in Wales than the rest of the UK, there have been some great stars of the sport from Cymru. Here is a look back through history at three horses who have been trained in Wales and have gone on to have a lot of success in the sport.
Not since 1905 has a Welsh-trained horse won a major race at Aintree, however, Cappa Bleu produced some fantastic performances in the most famous steeplechase in the world during the last decade.
Evan Williams’ runner was placed in the Grand National twice. In 2012 he came back in fourth place in the race which was won by Neptune Collonges. 12 months later, the gelding went two places better as he was the runner-up behind Auroras Encore. Williams, who is based in Glamorgan, will still be hoping to win the 4m2½f contest on Merseyside. Prime Venture could be his best chance in 2021. The field for the race is set to be headed by the history seeking Tiger Roll who is the 12/1 favourite in the early horse racing betting with Betfair for the race.
One of the best stories in the history of Welsh horse racing is Norton’s Coin’ victory in the 1990 Cheltenham Gold Cup at odds of 100/1. The chaser was trained by dairy farmer Sirrell Griffiths who only had two other horses in his stable.
The majority of the crowd at Cheltenham that year were there to cheer on the 1989 winner Desert Orchid who was such a favourite of theirs. Very few gave Norton’s Coin a chance, as his odds reflected.
Griffiths’ win was a huge victory for smaller trainers as he did not have the luxury of the facilities that many of the leading trainers had in the sport. The result also still ranks as one of the biggest upsets the race has seen.
Norton’s Coin was unable to replicate his success in later renewals, however, his day in the sun will forever be remembered in Wales. Ffos Las Racecourse has even named a race after him in honour of his achievement.
Patron Saint became the first Welsh-trained horse to win the Blue Riband event of National Hunt racing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1928 when he prevailed at odds of 7/2. Dick Rees trained the chaser just outside of Bangor and at the age of just five, Patron Saint beat six other horses at Prestbury Park to ensure the Welsh flag was flying high after the race. His rivals that day included the 1926 winner Koko and 1927 Grand National victor Sprig.
Patron Saint’s win was a big deal for Welsh racing, and it proved those in the country could have success in the biggest races in the sport.
Let’s hope there are many more Welsh-trained horses who go on to achieve something special in National Hunt racing in the near future.