With 25 fences to jump over an extended four miles, in heavy ground no less, this is going to be a true test for these Grand National hopefuls and not one for the feint hearted.
There are plenty in with chances but all things being equal the race should come down to this half of the field.
Eider Handicap Chase (Class 2) 4m½f
This is a hell of a test for the prospective favourite, a 7yo with just 4 chases under his belt, though he won the Sussex National on heavy ground and the Vinnie Roe gelding may yet stay the extra half-mile.
Won on the heavy going at Haydock over the winter (3½m) and may stay on well here but the 8lb rise in the weights seemed to be his ballast last time out and more is needed here.
West Of The Edge
Glass half-empty: he’s exposed, glass half-full: he’s experienced and that could be crucial in these conditions. Even at 10 he’s still getting better over fences which is a good sign and he ran with credit in the Devon National last year.
His placings don’t look too encouraging but he’s actually been running well without winning. Placed here last time out albeit over barely 3 miles, but breeding suggests he might appreciate the longer trip.
Back To The Thatch
Only a 6yo with 4 chases thus far on the CV and may struggle with this assignment. He did win last time out on the heavy though and the trainer thinks he’s capable.
By St Leger winner Milan and may now want the extra stamina test. Won over 3m5f last time but pulled-up in this last year but that was after hitting the fourth fence and frankly he’s a much better horse now. Must have every chance this year.
Chase The Spud
Beat last year’s Eider winner in the Midlands National and his best run was arguably his latest win in November. Great credentials for this on paper but others may improve past him.
Bred for the job, 15 chases under his belt and still improving for the test. He was 6th in this last year and won the same prep twice in a row so will be popular in the ring no doubt.
We’ve seen big improvement from him with each race this season and he may want this sort of test now. Won unchallenged last time however and will find this much harder.
Bred to go a long way and has plenty of experience now. His best run was a few outings ago when 2nd in the Durham National but that was also over his longest trip this season so even better is expected here over the four miles. Won the Highland National in the spring, albeit on better ground.
There are plenty of contenders as you’d expect in a race like this with Boric a lively outsider and the likes of Smooth Stepper, Vinnie Lewis and Themanfrom Minella all holding chances.
The most intriguing one for me though is general 10/1 shot MILANSBAR who would have gone close last year had he not rattled the fourth fence and who is improving nicely as he gains more experience over the larger obstacles. Neil King and Jamie Moore are at Newcastle purely for this and they may not be disappointed.