Michael Scudamore’s stable star had his finest hour in this race in the 2012-13 season, but he was not asked to defend his title last Christmas.
The marathon handicap chase is back on the agenda this time and Monbeg Dude staked his claim with a mighty run in the Hennessy at Newbury, when he made eyecatching late progress to take fourth place behind Many Clouds.
The horse, seventh in last season’s Grand National, will be ridden by trainer’s brother Tom, who was second on Dynaste in yesterday’s William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton.
“He’s come out of his last race in great form,” said the Ross-on-Wye trainer, whose father Peter won the race four times as a rider.
“We thought he might have been a bit tired, but he was jumping and kicking and everything has gone smoothly since. He had an easy 10 days after the race and then slipped back into his normal routine.”
Scudamore said today’s race has always been the major aim this season for the nine-year-old, whose owners include Yorkshire-born rugby hero Mike Tindall, husband of the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips.
In the past Phillips has schooled Monbeg Dude to improve the horse’s jumping.
“The Welsh National was always pretty much the plan. As a group of owners, we sat down at the beginning of the year and all roads led to this day, really,” added Scudamore. “He’s won the race before and while he’s carrying a lot more weight, he’s going there in very good form, so we’re hopeful.”
The defending champion is the Richard Lee-trained Mountainous who warmed up for today’s test with a spin in a three-mile handicap chase on this course three weeks ago. “We’re very happy with him,” said Lee’s daughter and assistant, Kerry.
Shotgun Paddy attempts to emulate Carvill’s Hill in 1991 by carrying 11st 12lb to victory.
Emma Lavelle could not have the top weight in better shape following his pipe-opener over hurdles at Newbury four weeks ago.
She said: “It’s always a little bit disappointing to be carrying top weight in a race like this over that kind of trip on soft ground.
“But that’s the handicapper telling us he’s the best horse in the race and I’m hoping he’s still fairly unexposed.”