Venetia Williams grabbed a second feature handicap of the season as Emperor’s Choice narrowly prevailed in a thrilling finish to Saturday’s Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.
Just weeks after winning the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with Niceonefrankie, Williams and stable jockey Aidan Coleman proved once again that with a target to aim at there are few better big-race combinations.
The seven-year-old appeared to have blown his chance when making a mistake in the home straight, handing the initiative to the Irish challenger Glenquest.
A big leap at the last looked to have sealed it for bottom weight Glenquest, but he was running on empty soon after and his pursuers sensed their chance.
Benvolio seemed set to be the beneficiary as Sam Twiston-Davies hunted for glory, but Coleman refused to be denied on Emperor’s Choice and the 9-1 chance prevailed by a short head and two and a half lengths. Previous winner Monbeg Dude briefly threatened in the straight and stuck on for fourth.
Emperor’s Choice and Benvolio were at the head of affairs throughout but the writing was on the wall very early for long-time ante-post favourite Shotgun Paddy who as pulled up.
Williams, winning the race for the second time after Jocks Cross in 2000, said: “I thought the fact he was in front meant the ground wasn’t testing enough or they weren’t going quick enough.
“I thought there would be too many in with a chance turning for home and they’d have too much speed for him, which they did, but when stamina really came into play he came back at them.
“He’s been all about stamina. He was a slow learner and took a while to get into gear. I never dreamed he’d be able to make the running in such a prestigious race as I didn’t think he’d be quick enough. It was really special for me as we had a box with all my owners and friends and we were screaming, they must have heard us on the other side of the River Severn!”
At Kempton, Special Tiara put up a display Desert Orchid himself might have been proud of after making all in the race commemorating the former four-times King George hero at Kempton.
The bold-jumping Henry de Bromhead-trained gelding executed a precise plan under Barry Geraghty in the William Hill-sponsored contest and never saw any of his rivals from tape to line. At one stage the combination were 25 lengths clear, though at the finish 11-10 favourite Balder Succes reduced the gap to two and a quarter lengths.