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Ranking Paul Nicholls’ Welsh Grand National quartet

| 18.12.2015

Paul Nicholls has been denied victory in the last two Welsh Grand Nationals by a short head and a head respectively.

Benvolio went down to Emperor’s Choice by the second shortest of margins in the stewards’ handbook in 2014.

A year previously Hawkes Point was pipped a head by Mountainous, with fellow Ditcheat representative Tidal Bay coming in third.

Those near misses burnished an already decorated association with the Chepstow marathon for Nicholls, who has won the race twice, albeit not since 2005.

In the nine runnings since, he has hit the woodwork no fewer than seven times from 20 runners.

The two most recent silver medallists are among a four-strong entry from the yard for the 2015 renewal, but which is his most likely to end Ditcheat’s wait for a victory?

Here’s how news.ladbrokes.com rank the delegation…

4. Benvolio @ 20/1 to win

Last year’s second remains unexposed, having raced just ten times over fences and races off the same mark as he did when coming so close 12 months ago.

However, he has yet to show he has regained his mojo after those exertions in three runs since, twice being pulled up before coming a 37l fifth on his seasonal bow in the first week of December.

3. Hawkes Point @ 16/1 to win

Just 2lbs higher in the handicap than when second in the 2013 renewal and on an identical mark to when third in the 2014 edition of the Chepstow trial race contested by Benvolio recently.

Crucially he’s the only one of the Nicholls contingent to carry under 10st 10lbs – the last six heavy-ground runnings of the marathon were won by those carrying less.

He may have pulled up in last year’s big race, but has proven his wellbeing since, winning Warwick’s Classic Chase over 3m5f, before finishing fourth in the 4m Midlands National at Uttoxeter on soft ground in March (his last run).

2. Black Thunder @ 16/1 to win

Has long suggested that a marathon slog may see him to best effect and enjoyed a far better prep-run than the bare form suggests last time out.

Finishing 12th to Sausalito Sunrise at Cheltenham in November, he would’ve finished far closer but for a poor jump two from home.

Five of his seven career wins and two of his four seconds have come on soft or heavy going, suggesting he’ll relish the traditional post-Christmas Chepstow sludge.

The major negative is his hefty 11st 8lbs burden, for the reasons outlined previously.

1. Salubrious @ 14/1 to win

Open to plenty of improvement having raced just twice over fences, Salubrious is nonetheless unbeaten over the larger obstacles.

Despite this, he won’t lack for big field experience having finished first and second in competitive handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013 and 2014.

He scored over 3m on heavy ground under Sam Twiston-Davies on his seasonal bow in early November, with his rider vouching for the fact that he relished heavy ground in the aftermath.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Thomas Reynolds