By Phil Bell, executive director of Chepstow and Ffos Las Racecourses

The Welsh Government has asked for racecourses to suggest dates for trials with spectators next February. This is clearly a positive step forward and we look forward to progressing matters in the coming weeks. Crowds of up to 2000 have been allowed in Tier 2 areas of England in recent days.

Our hopes will be guided by the R rate and number of cases per 100,000 which needs to drop considerably before we welcome people back through the turnstiles. But at least we have some dates to aim for.

The Coral Welsh Grand National on Sunday, December 27, will take place behind closed doors but is live on ITV Racing and Sky Sports Racing.

Despite the extremely difficult commercial situation off the track, our sport has had another very strong year on it.

The top-class results across the UK for our trainers, jockeys, owners and stable staff were recognised at the weekend when the winners of the 2020 Welsh Horse Racing Awards were announced. The awards are arranged annually by Chepstow, Ffos Las and Bangor Racecourses.

The judging panel felt that this year’s achievements justified the awards for the Jockey, Trainer and Owner of the Year being split between Flat and National Hunt. Adam Wedge, stable rider to Evan Williams, was the most successful jump jockey in the last year in terms of wins and also won at the Cheltenham Festival on Lisnagar Oscar. He was the undisputed winner of the National Hunt award. David Probert was Flat Jockey of the Year. He rode the 1,000th British winner of his career in June.

Evan Williams and David Evans were the clear winners of the National Hunt and Flat Trainer of the Year awards, both in terms of numbers of wins on the track and prize money.

The exploits of the modestly-bred Pyledriver have been highlights of the 2020 flat season winning the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York before finishing a close third in the St Leger. Two of his three owners (La Pyle Partnership), Guy and Huw Leach, hail from Cardiff and they were deserving winners of the Flat Owner of the Year award.

Equally outstanding for the National Hunt Owners’ award were All Stars Sports Racing and Jonathan Davies, the group of Welshmen who own the Coral Welsh Grand National winner Potters Corner and Limited Reserve, who took a valuable Grade 3 handicap at Sandown.

For the reasons described above, the Horse of the Year awards went to Pyledriver as the leading flat horse; Lisnagar Oscar as the top hurdler; and Potters Corner as the champion steeplechaser.

The Lifetime Achievement award was unanimously given to Brian Lee, the popular journalist and author who has written passionately about Welsh racing for over 50 years and is still writing for the local newspapers at the age of 84.

The Breeder of the Year award went to Usk Valley Stud. Sue Mercer and her husband Kevin owned the stud until his death in 2017. That was the year Pyledriver was foaled there, as was Baron Samedi, a five-time winner trained in Ireland by Joseph O’Brien.

Charlie Price was the winner of the Rising Star award. The young conditional jockey is attached to Tim Vaughan’s yard and the Stable Staff Recognition Award went to 18-year-old Katie Powell, who works for trainer Sheila Lewis.