Welsh Grand National: Benvolio can reward followers in season of goodwill

Nicholls running Benvolio (above) half a mile further than he's run before

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The Independent Online

Horses from all ranks have their names etched on the Welsh Grand National trophy, from future Cheltenham Gold Cup winners like Burrough Hill Lad and Synchronised to workaday handicappers like last year’s winner Mountainous.

What they all have in common is bountiful reserves of stamina and the ability to slog through ground usually as deep as it gets anywhere all winter.

Benvolio (2.35 Chepstow), one of two Paul Nicholls runners (he also fields last year’s narrow runner-up, Hawkes Point), is racing over half a mile further than he has ever run before, but looks custom-made for this gruelling test.

His first campaign over fences last season included a couple of blips, but the highlights – game wins at Newbury and Haydock – marked him down as an ideal candidate for this race. He looked a little lazy at times on his Wincanton return last month, but shaped well enough to provide further encouragement and the fitting of blinkers for the first time is a positive move.

Recent history is against Mountainous or the previous winner, Monbeg Dude, repeating the feat; it’s 11 years since the race was won by a horse as old as nine, while you have to go back 25 years to find the last to win it twice, Bonanza Boy. But Monbeg Dude is still one for the shortlist after finishing fourth in the Hennessy Gold Cup last month.

Predictably, Midnight Prayer and Shotgun Paddy, first and second in the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last March, head the market.

Shotgun Paddy, not quite at his best on that occasion, has an ideal profile, young and progressive with proven stamina, and he is likely to make his presence felt, despite carrying top weight.

The Welsh Grand National at Chepstow is live on Channel 4.