AS CHRISTMAS approaches, the focus of Welsh horse racing leans towards Chepstow for the £150,000 Coral Welsh Grand National on Friday, 27th December.

There are seven races from 12.30pm and the gates open at 10am. Parking is free.

It is by some way the richest race of the year in Wales and is well known as a traditional festive highlight with an attendance of more than 10,000 people. This year the international opera stars Sir Bryn Terfel and Rebecca Evans are singing the national anthem as the runners line-up at the start.

Some of the best horses to have graced British racecourses have secured this prestigious prize over the years, including Synchronised, Native River, Silver Birch, Earth Summit and Carvill’s Hill.

Twenty runners will go to post for a race which is slightly longer than in previous years at three miles and six furlongs.

The runners will now jump one fence in front of the stands before embarking on two full circuits of the track. This means the horses will approach the first bend slightly slower than in previous years.

The extension has been agreed by all relevant parties in the interests of safety.

Last week, to promote this year’s event, we invited connections of the winners from 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago for a photo-shoot at the racecourse.

Among the attendees were Tom O’Brien, the winning jockey on Dream Alliance 10 years ago, and also Elegant Escape last year.

He was joined by champion jockey & Chepstow Racecourse ambassador Richard Johnson and trainer Henry Daly, who teamed up to send out Edmond to win in 1999. Martin Pipe, the trainer of 1989 winner Bonanza Boy, also attended, along with former jockey Paul Barton, who rode Pete Scot to victory in 1979.

Wales rugby international George North also came along to lend his support to one of the biggest sporting occasions in the country.

In 2017, Pembrokeshire jockey James Bowen won the Coral Welsh Grand National as a 16-year-old riding a horse, Raz De Maree, that was only three years younger than him! Last Saturday, James recorded another big victory when Call Me Lord, trained by Nicky Henderson, won the Grade Two Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

James’ brother Sean Bowen should be back in action soon after picking up a shoulder injury.

It’s been a tremendous year for Welsh jockeys with Sean winning his first Grade One (at Aintree), Connor Brace successful in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr, Richard Patrick taking the Bet Victor Gold Cup at Cheltenham and Ben Jones lifting the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury. There are many other notable successes for Welsh riders but we would need a few pages to list them all.

Tickets for the James Arthur Race Night on Saturday, 6th June are selling well and there has been a tremendous response to the news that he’ll be performing with us next year. There is a total of 30 race meetings at Chepstow in 2020. All the details are on the website.

I would like to wish all readers a very Happy Christmas and thank my teams at Chepstow and Ffos Las for their hard work and commitment throughout 2019.