Who was the first jockey to win the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow?
The Welsh Grand National was founded in 1895 at Ely Racecourse in western Cardiff – which, in its time, was the most important racecourse in Wales – where it remained until horse racing at Ely came to an end in 1939. The race wasn’t run again until 1948, at Caerleon Racecourse, on the northern outskirts of Newport, but that course also closed later the same year.
The Welsh Grand National was transferred to Chepstow Racecourse in 1949 and has remained at the Monmouthshire venue ever since. The inaugural running at Chepstow was won by Fighting Line, trained by Ken Cundell, father of Peter, and ridden by none other than Richard Stanley ‘Dick’ Francis. Of course, Francis would go on to ride 350 winners and win the National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship in 1953/54 but, having only turned professional the previous April, the Welsh Grand National was his most important win to date.
Francis would have won the Grand National proper, too, but for the inexplicable collapse of his mount, Devon Loch, on the run-in in the closing stages of the 1956 renewal. The shadow of the water jump, the noise of the crowd, false ground and cramp have all been blamed for the puzzling incident, but ESB, the principal beneficiary, was arguably the luckiest National winner in history.