Ben Coley provides a horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's Marston's 61 Deep Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter.
Looked very good in winning the novices' handicap chase on this card two years ago, beating a solid yardstick convincingly off a mark of 148. Stop-start since, twice disappointing when fancied for the Ladbrokes Trophy but running well last January at Cheltenham and honourably in the Gold Cup a couple of months later. Mark of 154 - unchanged for Newbury disappointment in December - probably within his compass but does have questions to answer giving weight all-round. Conditions to suit otherwise.
Like the top horse, returns here having last been seen running no race at Newbury, and with mark unchanged. Had been consistently excellent throughout novice campaign, when improving markedly for her first start back from a break, and it's easy therefore to forgive her failure. Slight worry as to why she's been out for so long and could again strip fitter for this, but if raring to go has plenty in her favour and did win a heavy ground bumper here.
Well-backed eighth returned to fences in the Welsh National but unable to take advantage of a lower hurdles mark when fourth at Sandown last time. That said, he stayed on strongly there, catching the eye under Richard Johnson, and again shaping as though an extreme test on bad ground is what he wants. Indeed, rewind to last year and he went from finishing fourth behind Topofthegame in that same Sandown race to winning at Punchestown and with Davy Russell sticking around to ride, he looks an ideal type for this.
Four-time winner over fences who goes best left-handed and loves testing ground. Last win came around this time last year over 3m2f at Kelso and he's now only 2lb higher despite running just twice since over fences. The first of those probably came too soon on ground too quick and the second was in Listed company at Ascot, where things happened quicker than he'd like. Possible therefore to make a case for the 10-year-old back in more appropriate company and he's a big price.
Versatile, hardy sort who is edging towards £250,000 in career earnings, his latest success having come on the level back in August. Prior to that he'd won here at Uttoxeter over hurdles and he's not badly treated off a mark of 140, having finished third at Haydock in December when lumping round a big weight. Bit to prove in the stamina department though and hard to see him being good enough here despite yard's excellent record in the race.
Lightly-raced and arguably still improving, although whether he found much more for the fitting of a tongue-tie and cheekpieces last time is open to debate. He did rally though, shaping as though a further step up in distance may help, and he'll certainly like the ground. One to consider with his form this season stacking up nicely thanks to Lake View Lad and Carole's Destrier, and definite scope for another step forward.
Seventh in the Welsh National and followed that by winning the Devon version for the second year running, this one a career-best. That puts him in need of another but stamina is his forte, he likes this ground and he knows how to back up runs, so while there are flashier profiles he looks one for the trifecta perm.
Maiden over fences and untried over this sort of distance, but second at Chepstow a couple of starts back reads well enough and trainer won this race in 2016. Has refused to race in the past though and looks both lacking in experience and a little high in the weights.
Well-backed winner at Carlisle last time, clearly benefiting for a step up to three miles. New mark demands more but he got on a roll over hurdles and the same is possible now that he's off the mark over fences. This will be just his fourth start as a chaser, however, and he perhaps travels a little too well to see things through over a marathon trip at this stage in his career.
Second on all four starts this season but bumped into a couple and connections felt their decision to press on last time backfired somewhat. Back in a handicap, he doesn't appear to be harshly treated and unlike some of these looks an ideal type for a relentless test of stamina. Likes the ground and started off life winning a point so very much one for the shortlist despite sequence of runner-up finishes.
Veteran who has twice been runner-up in this - last year off 142 and in 2016 off a mark of 145. Now down to 137, he's therefore of some interest and there was a bit more promise in his run at Newbury last time, in which he stayed on dourly for fourth place. With Bryony Frost back in the plate - the pair combined for the Classic Chase at Warwick, one of the races which helped put Frost on the map - there's an each-way case to be made for a two-time course winner who we know sees it out well enough.
Last year's 10-length winner returns off a mark just 2lb higher having done little since, although there was more promise in his Taunton run on Monday. Any concern that he's out again too quickly allayed by the fact he won the very same race last year before taking this one under a penalty, although it's clear he's not quite in the same form this time around. Couldn't rule him out completely though.
Raz De Maree
Admirable 14-year-old who won the Welsh National last season and finished fifth in the follow-up bid. That was just two starts back yet he's dropped 5lb to a competitive mark, and with trainer Gavin Cromwell enjoying a week to remember there will be those prepared to chance this proven stayer. Wouldn't be among them myself.
Went up 7lb for winning at Wincanton on Boxing Day but looked like following up when coming to grief back there a month later. However, that earned him another 5lb hike and he got another 3lb for falling at Newbury last time. With ground perhaps slower than ideal and confidence an issue he's off the shortlist.
Won over almost three-and-a-half miles at Haydock in December having started the season with a decent fourth here. Now more than a stone higher than when last successful but some of his old form suggests this new mark is manageable, particularly off a low weight and with conditions to suit. Likely to go well for a time from close to the front.
Back To The Thatch
Pulled-up when fancied here last year and returns off a 4lb higher mark, but he earned it with a good run at Haydock when last seen. Off for a couple of months since but no real cause for alarm and there could be more to come from a seven-year-old who connections feel wants this sort of test.
Get On The Yager
Same mark as when winning the Rowland Merrick last season and 7lb lower than when ninth in this race, sent off a 9/1 shot. Low-key since but this is just his third start of the season and he's falling down the weights for a much respected operation, so not one to draw a line through.
Irish raider who was a good fourth behind Crosspark last time and races off just 1lb higher here. Concern would have to be that he's been kept away from very testing ground in the past.
Visor goes on here after a couple of disappointing runs this season. He's often looked like the sort to pick up a race like this, never more so than when falling in the 2017 renewal when bang there three from home. He was at the top of his game then and patently isn't now, but a 10lb lower mark offers hope and, on his second start following wind surgery, a sudden turnaround isn't out of the question.
Ran in the 2016 Lexus for Gordon Elliott having previously been runner-up in a couple of Grade Two races, which tell you he's thrown-in here off 128 if back close to his best. Didn't show much on first start for this yard last time but that was over hurdles and his last run over fences, at this time last year, wasn't totally devoid of promise. The case relies on what he once did rather than what he's been doing, but it can be made.
A typically competitive Midlands National in which there's temptation to side with Folsom Blue, who has everything in his favour bar his age and caught the eye last time out over hurdles.
He's very much respected along with fellow veteran Milansbar, twice a runner-up in this and dropping down the weights, but the younger legs of Jammin Masters are preferred.
On the face of it, this horse has been a little frustrating but he's been unfortunate, too, and his blend of relative youth and scope for progression yet plenty of experience makes for a likeable profile.
Arthur's Gift and Ballydine are respected, too, but it's possible neither will prove quite so well suited to the demands of this particularly gruelling marathon so it's those veterans who go in for the forecast and tricast.
At the top of the weights, American and Ms Parfois both bring definite class but also questions they must answer, particularly in an unforgiving race where big weights tend to stop good horses.
- JAMMIN MASTERS
- Folsom Blue
- Chef D'Oeuvre
- Ms Parfois