The £100,000 Grand National Trial may or not provide us with a live contender for the big one in April, but it is a fine race in its own right.
It’ll also take some getting this time. Haydock, despite being flat, can be notoriously difficult to see out when the ground is heavy and this 3½-mile trip will no doubt find a few of the runners out.
We’re left with just eleven runners this year, but it was still tough to separate these six from the rest:
Under previous ownership and when with Nigel Twiston-Davies, Blaklion was always seen as a Grand National contender.
He was sold for an eye-watering amount to Darren Yates and spent some time with Philip Kirby before being moved in October 2020 to Dan Skelton who now has him back in supreme form at the age of 13.
He won over this course and distance on very soft ground at an absolute canter back in December and on that form, he’d have a major shout here but that this age we wouldn’t anticipate much improvement from him and he is now 9lbs higher in the handicap.
Bristol De Mai
Known for years as the archetypal Haydock specialist, old-timer Bristol De Mai has a record of five wins and one second from 7 turns around this track.
He was pulled-up on his most recent visit, but let’s not forget he was just 11/4 to win what was the Grade 1 Betfair Chase and he has since run very well at Lingfield over an inadequate trip.
He’s held his form very well and is down to a mark of 159 now, something that makes him interesting given that it is likely the slower pace of this three-and-a-half-mile event will allow him to either move into the event in his own time, or perhaps even dominate it from the front.
The top two are elder statesmen now, but Enqarde represents a younger group and has the rare dual benefits of youth and racing experience on his side.
Only eight years old, there is no doubt Dr Richard Newland’s runner is still improving markedly but he has already seen a racecourse 24 times and knows his way around the block.
He pulled up in the Scottish National back in April, but very likely wasn’t enjoying the good ground on landing as his best form is on surfaces similar to what he’ll encounter in this race.
His ten-length win at Haydock over just shy of 3¼ miles last time showed him to be at a new level now, while he was staying on nicely leading to the belief that this trip will be perfect.
Jennie Candlish’s runner makes the list as a horse that could potentially improve tons and who has won at Haydock on heavy ground. He also has the benefit of the excellent Brian Hughes up top.
It’s possible he can make a big impact here so we didn’t want to leave him out, but it must be said that on what is only his fourth chase start there is no guarantee of any sort that he’ll see out this trip and in fact over hurdles he rather failed when stepped up to three miles.
There’s been heavy money for last season’s winner of both the Welsh National and its preceding trial race.
The trip and ground should be fine, but despite running a creditable fifth in this season’s Welsh National he was way below his best and of course is higher in the weights than when last winning at Chepstow.
The Galloping Bear
Ben Clarke’s runner could be a real livewire here. Three from three over fences so far, he is getting better and has already successfully stayed 3m5f on heavy at Lingfield.
He hasn’t beaten very much in truth though and so off a mark of 140, we couldn’t say with any certainty that he’s well in according to the handicap.
This race handicapped like a really competitive event despite the field size. The likes of Bristol De Mai and Blaklion can stay, have the class and have some recent form, but they are cracking on in age.
The Galloping Bear is 3/3 over fences, but his improvement in that time hasn’t been what we’d call massive and he hasn’t beaten anything of note. Enqarde is another improving younger horse, but he pulled-up in the Scottish Grand National which will lead some to believe he won’t stay.
All things considered and at the prices offered, it’s best to back a horse from both the older and younger categories. We recommend you split the stakes right down the middle and back BRISTOL DE MAI and ENQARDE here.