The weather is set fair now in Staffordshire this weekend, but the ground is still listed as soft for the four-and-a-quarter-mile Midlands Grand National and it will take some getting for these runners.
Eighteen of them take part, including some pretty inexperienced chasers, the field being asked to take in no less than 24 fences in their pursuit of a share of a brilliant £150,000 pot.
It’s the type of race in which one not on our shortlist could well go in, but we do like the below half-dozen with the ultimate selection having the look of a very unexposed stayer.
Off just 10st1lb Captain Drake may be able to fairly skip over this softer going. In fact, Harry Fry’s nine-year-old was a very good winner of the Devon National in similar conditions three weeks ago.
He’s not new to this having had 12 chase races already for two wins, so it may well be that despite how impressive he was last time that the 7lbs rise he’s faced in the handicap may be difficult to overcome.
De Young Warrior
De Young Warrior also raced on softer going at Exeter on Devon National day, but not in the big race itself.
Jeremy Scott’s horse instead took in a three-mile novices’ handicap chase, finishing second but rather disappointing in the end as the beaten 5/4 favourite.
This sort of extreme distance could be more his game and we note that he is certainly improving overall, perhaps the muddling pace in what was a four-runner race doing for him last time. He won a three-mile chase at Chepstow before that and looked good doing so.
Irish-based trainer John Joseph Hanlon brings a very exciting prospect to the race in the shape of Hewick.
Just a seven-year-old, he has not been asked to give his absolute best yet but keeps improving rapidly over fences.
A versatile performer, Hewick ran second over fences at Perth in September before being sent over hurdles twice, winning at Listowel and only just missing out at Gowran Park.
He was back over the larger obstacles last time when he took down the Durham National at Sedgefield in very fine style and that performance should be taken very seriously.
He stays very well, should handle the deeper ground just fine and has the assistance of Jordan Gainford in the saddle who is value for all of his 3lb claim, offsetting some of the fair 8lb rise he received after Sedgefield.
Also trained in Ireland is Screaming Colours and, if you believe the form is easy enough to read, then he simply has to have a chance in this race.
We say that as last year he came into this race in decent form and went on to finish a fine fourth, beaten just 5 lengths by Time To Get Up. This time, he comes in as runner-up in the Cork National, running around 5-6lbs better than last term.
He is higher in the handicap these days though and so at eleven years old, he needs to put it all in.
Time To Get Up
Time To Get Up was a very well backed winner of this race last year and he’s back for more.
The fact that he is favourite again is based on that very win twelve months ago. He was in fine form at the time and performed as we all thought he should, though this time around he hasn’t been so hot.
He’s also now 4lbs higher in the handicap and so it will take a great training performance from Jonjo O’Neill if he is to repeat his biggest success.
Wholestone is very interesting in this race, though we cannot know exactly what to expect.
His last chase race was back in November 2019, but we noticed that his form level was very similar to what he achieved over hurdles.
That may give him a chance and connections most likely hope he’s simply a better horse now than he was in 2019, but he is on a mark that doesn’t make him stand out as well treated.
The Exeter form way be well represented here, both De Young Warrior and Captain Drake appearing to have strong chances.
In our view though, HEWICK is an improving type who is also a proven stayer. The fact he should handle things no problem, is getting better and also has a top 3lb claimer on board come together to give him an outstanding chance.