By Grahm Thomas
Tim Vaughan, Sam Thomas and Peter Bowen will bid to end over a century of pain for Welsh horse race trainers at the Grand National on Saturday.
It is 118 years since a Welsh-trained horse won the iconic race at Aintree, but if one of the trio does triumph then the roar will go around Chepstow as well as Aintree.
For the first time, Chepstow Racecouse have shaped an entire day’s racing around the biggest race in the calendar, which is taking place 186 miles north in Liverpool.
After their own seven-race meeting, punters in Chepstow will watch on the big screens as three Welsh horses and three Welsh jockeys bid to plant a red dragon in the Aintree turf.
The last Welsh-trained Grand National winner – the one and only – was way back in 1905 with Kirkland taking the prize under Frank ‘Titch’ Mason, trained by Edward Thomas.
The last Welsh jockey to win was Carl Llewellyn on Earth Summit back in 1998.
Good luck to Welsh trainers in tomorrow's Grand National – Tim Vaughan (Eva's Oskar), Sam Thomas (Our Power) and Peter Bowen (Francky Du Berlais). Watch the big race will us – we have racing from 12.45pm & Grand National is off at 5.15pm & will be shown on big screens. pic.twitter.com/h0SlOYWERg
— Chepstow Racecourse (@Chepstow_Racing) April 14, 2023
While Vaughan is at Aintree – hoping for long overdue Welsh success with Eva’s Oskar – thousands will be cheering him on via the big screens at Chepstow, where it’s Grand National Party Raceday.
The racing at Chepstow starts on Saturday at 1.20pm and ends at 4.52pm. That leaves punters with plenty of time to get ready for the Aintree Grand National from Liverpool at 5.15pm.
“It’s brilliant that a local track like Chepstow is doing this, because not everyone can get to Aintree, but a lot of people can get along to Chepstow and get some of that Grand National buzz,” says Vaughan.
“If there are 5,000 people at Chepstow cheering us on, then it really makes it time to shine. I’m getting a tingle just thinking about it.
“The whole vibe of Grand National day at Aintree, the buzz, the commentary, the noise, the atmosphere and all of it can now filter through to Chepstow, which is fantastic.
“It’s great that they are doing such a thing. This is the world’s greatest horse race and the biggest day in the sport. For me, to be involved and know that so many people will be back home at Chepstow, sharing the nerves and the excitement, makes it even more special.”
The strong Welsh contingent at Aintree this year extends to Eva Oskar’s jockey, Alan Johns who had a winner last week at Ffos Las on the Peter Bowen-trained mare, Dicey Rielly.
Another Welsh jockey with high hopes of glory is Sean Bowen, who rides last year’s Grand National winner, Noble Yeats.
Bowen warmed up with an easy winner at Chepstow’s meeting on Bank Holiday Monday aboard Not Available for trainer Matt Shepherd.
Noble Yeats and Bowen finished strongly in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month, suggesting he could well emulate Tiger Roll with back-to-back Grand National victories, albeit with different jockeys as Sam Waley-Cohen won 12 months ago.
As well as Vale of Glamorgan-based Vaughan, two more Welsh trainers have entries in this year’s Grand National.
Sam Thomas has the well-fancied Our Power – unbeaten in two starts this season – with the experienced Sam Twiston-Davies in the saddle.
If winning a Grand National is about staying power, then no wonder Thomas’s horse is among the favourites at Aintree.
A former Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey, Thomas has come through the most testing of six months since he and Our Power’s owner, Dai Walters, were involved in a helicopter crash back in November.
But both men have shown they have the kind of resilience and gritty determination often associated with the world’s most famous horse race and so Thomas would be a popular winner, should Our Power surge past the winning post on Saturday.
Currently priced around the 20/1 mark, Our Power only sneaked into the race at the bottom of the weights, but he has run just twice this season and won on both occasions.
The eight-year-old won the London Gold Cup at Ascot and then added another valuable prize in the shape of the Coral Trophy at Kempton.
“I can’t begin to imagine what it would feel like to win,” says Thomas, who could become the first Welsh trainer to win the Grand National since before the First World War.
“I’m well aware of what it takes to get round and after everything that’s happened this season, it’s just nice to be going there at all.
“I probably don’t realise the magnitude of it already, but since we’ve known we’ve got a run we’ve had so much interest.
Five people, including trainer Sam Thomas and owner Dai Walters, were injured in a helicopter accident last night.
Walters has suffered more serious injuries but is conscious and is being assessed in hospital, reports @LeglockLuke. More news as we have it… pic.twitter.com/cQjDHi6dQw
— Sky Sports Racing (@SkySportsRacing) November 2, 2022
“It really is such a big thing for the country and I’m very proud that we can go there and fly the flag for Wales.
“There are some fantastic Welsh trainers in the area, I’ve grown up watching Evan Williams and Tim Vaughan training lots of good winners and to be in among some of these trainers has been a pinch yourself moment.”
Completing a Welsh trio is Peter Bowen’s Francky De Berlais, a long-odds outsider who will be ridden by another Welsh jockey in Ben Jones.
A gap of 118 years is a long time since that last Welsh-trained horse to win the Grand National, but Vaughan says: “I’ve got a theory on that one.
“It’s about time we won again – it’s long overdue – and hopefully it will be me!”