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DragonBet Welsh Champion Hurdle Preview

Welsh Champion Hurdle Is ready to breath fire, backed by DragonBet

The days are shortening, but that’s no bad thing if you’re a jump season enthusiast as it means autumn carries the promise of great racing.

The season kicks off this week with the Big Welsh racing Weekend, a three-day jamboree over two courses – Chepstow and Ffos Las, climaxing with the eagerly-awaited Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las on Sunday, sponsored by DragonBet.

Always one of the marquee races in the Welsh calendar – and one of the spectacles to place alongside the other great highlights of the sporting year in Wales – the latest edition will mark 101 years since the race was first run in 1921.

The Welsh Champion Hurdle was at its peak 50 years ago when leading horses of the day such as Bula, Comedy Of Errors (twice), Lanzarote, Night Nurse (twice), Monksfield and Sea Pigeon were winners.

That was when the race was held at Chepstow, but since 2011 – and the switch to Ffos Las – the historic race has regained much of its lustre.

This Sunday’s Race – which happens to be Gentleman’s Day at Ffos Las – could mark a return to seeing rows of suited and booted punters throwing caps in the air in celebration of a winner with Welsh links, just like in yesteryear.

“For National Hunt fans, this race had a brilliant profile back in the 70s, when household names like Sea Pigeon and Night Nurse won it,” says David Lovell, director and co-founder of DragonBet.

“Maybe, it hasn’t reached those lofty heights more recently, but we think it’s heading back there with horses like The New One, Oscar Whisky and Silver Streak – a Welsh-trained winner – winning more recently.

“We want to be part of that journey and we think it can become a really big race again.

“The Welsh Grand National has always been a marquee event in Wales and that’s for big, staying chasers. But the Champion Hurdle, over the smaller obstacles, with faster, sharper horses, it just sits really well with the Welsh National.

“If we can get some big winners as we’ve had in recent years, then it’s going to be fantastic.”

Glory and Fortune won the race last year, ridden by Stan Sheppard and trained by Tom Lacey, but the Welsh influence had been strong in the preceding years.

Adam Wedge rode Silver Streak to his own piece of glory in 2018 for trainer Evan Williams, while Nigel Twiston-Davies trained The New One, a winner the previous year.

With Sean Bowen laying second in the champion jump jockey title race, there could be room for more Welsh celebrations on Gentleman’s Day.

DragonBet co-founder James Lovell says: “I would love to see a Welsh winner, even if financially it might hurt us a bit!

“People often bet local at Ffos Las and the Bowen brothers, Sean and James, are always well supported. Welsh racing is doing so well at present and it’s wonderful to be part of that, especially here in west Wales.

“The Bowen brothers are on the rise, this is a marquee race we are sponsoring, and it’s just a privilege to be involved.

“With trainers – Christian Williams keeps winning races, Evan Williams also, Rebecca Curtis, Tim Vaughan . . .  racing is really doing well in Wales at present.

“It’s amazing because we are not financed like the big English yards. These are people who do it through hard work, grit and determination and a love of the game.”

Loving the game is what will draw crowds to the Welsh Champion Hurdle again this year, with a bumper audience expected.

The DragonBet brothers, who have recently moved into online bookmaking, are very much part of that long-held affection for the traditions of the sport, having both learned the ropes as youngsters under the guidance of their late father, John Lovell.

“Tradition is always important to us,” adds James.

“We were raised in the betting ring and as an on-course bookmaker, you are really in the heart of the action.

“Our roots are in race course bookmaking and that’s never going to change. That’s where we grew up. We went to the University of race courses.

“But the business is evolving. The idea of DragonBet is to bring the race course ethos to online. Having a bet is as old as time, it’s just that methods change.

“For something like the Welsh Champion Hurdle, to be able to attach ourselves to the race as sponsor, and give out the winner’s prize money, is wonderful.”

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