Secret Reprieve Welsh National defence in the balance as Williams prays for rain
Evan Williams is desperate to get a run into last season's Welsh National hero Secret Reprieve, with the defence of his crown hanging in the balance unless he can make his seasonal return soon.
The seven-year-old gave Williams a famous first success in his country's biggest race in its rescheduled running last January, and is the 8-1 joint-favourite for the marathon with race sponsors Coral to become the first back-to-back winner since Bonanza Boy in 1989 after he appeared among the entries on Tuesday.
The gelding has not been seen since that win and just missed out on a place in the Grand National at Aintree in April. A repeat Chepstow bid could be in doubt unless there is sufficient rainfall, with a possible return at Haydock at the weekend unlikely unless the forecast changes drastically.
"The Welsh National is definitely on our agenda, but whether we can get there or not with this weather I don't know," Williams said. "I could really do with running him on Saturday as I'm desperate to start him off.
"He wants a bit of cut in the ground, but the way things are at the moment we're going absolutely nowhere. Our fingers are crossed for a drop of rain, but the weather forecast needs to be wrong."
Williams reported his star to have thrived over the summer and is relishing the prospect of returning to Chepstow provided he gets a prep-run, with another attempt at contesting the Grand National another major seasonal target.
He added: "He's done exceptionally well, I didn't have a clue he'd progress like he did last year, it was only when we started running him that he progressed. I can't pretend I knew but sometimes things pan out in front of you, but you don't know where you are until you get that run under your belt.
"It was a tremendous ambition of mine to win the race and it meant an awful lot to finally get the job done – it meant as much to me as anything I've achieved. I'd love to try again, but we're a long way from getting back there."
The Welsh National, which is due to be run in its traditional December 27 slot, has attracted 63 entries and Colin Tizzard could saddle as many as five runners in the 3m6½f Grade 3, including 2016 winner and Gold Cup hero Native River and 2018 winner Elegant Escape.
One horse who is unlikely to turn up at Chepstow is Scottish National hero Mighty Thunder, who will tackle the National fences for the first time in the Becher Chase instead.
The Lucinda Russell-trained eight-year-old heads the betting at 10-1 for the Becher having been allocated a weight of 11st, with Irish raider Chris's Dream shouldered with top weight of 11st 12lb and Vieux Lion Rouge – winner in 2016 and last year – handed 10st 9lb.
Russell said: "I like his weight, it's quite attractive. His jumping became very good through last year and while the fences are a test, they're not as much as they used to be. They're very fair and I'm hoping he'll take to them."
The Betfair Tingle Creek Chase – run on the same day as the Becher on December 4 – has attracted 14 entries and Nicky Henderson confirmed last year's star novice chaser Shishkin is on course to make his seasonal return in the Sandown Grade 1.
Shishkin heads the betting at 4-5 with the race sponsors but could face the top-class Willie Mullins-trained pair of Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi, as well as Sunday's Shloer Chase winner Nube Negra.
Henderson said: "We'll wait and see what Willie throws at us and it looks like being a hot division this term. They'll all be queueing up to take him on and Willie is bound to send something because he's got so many.
"He's not got enough races in Ireland, so I suppose he's going to try and nick our money again. We'll be ready for him."
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