Five key questions ahead of the Midlands National

Paul Nicholls will saddle the exciting Mcfabulous at Kempton on Saturday.
Paul Nicholls will saddle the exciting Mcfabulous at Kempton on Saturday.

It remains to be seen just how much racing we’ll see in the coming weeks and months due to the Covid-19 outbreak, but for now at least, racing will continue. The Cheltenham Festival may be finished for another year, but we’ve got plenty of racing to get stuck into at the weekend, including Uttoxeter’s big day, the Midlands Grand National, writes Alex Stearn.

Can Truckers Lodge go one better? 

Lorcan Williams has struck up an excellent partnership with Truckers Lodge having not finished outside the top two in four rides and he’ll be hoping that the extra distance in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter will see him go one better than last time. That was in the ultra-competitive Welsh Grand National in late-December where, despite having come under pressure from before the fourth last fence, he stayed on gallantly to be beaten a length-and-three-quarters. The son of Westerner does have a nice racing weight as well, thanks to the inclusion of Ladbrokes Trophy winner De Rasher Counter - who is rated 13 lbs better than his closest rival – and as his rider will take off an extra 3 lbs. Nicholls’ charge does have to compete off a 2 lb higher mark than his latest engagement but this eight-year-old is still unexposed at extreme trips and could well prove to be better than his current mark.  

Of the rest, Christmas In April looks like starting favourite and he’s another with a similar profile. Still young for a staying chaser and unexposed at these sorts of distances, he has the Sussex and Devon National on his CV already. A tidy jumper that travels through his races powerfully, he has the assistance of Richard Johnson in the saddle today, which is never a bad thing, but is 8 lb higher than last time so could be too high in the handicap. Petite Power was well-backed for the Eider before rain meant that the card was abandoned and his effort in the Classic Chase at Warwick has taken a boost with The Conditional taking the Ultima at the festival this week, meaning he isn’t without a chance off a feather-weight. 

Will the Cheltenham form point to winners on Saturday? 

With Cheltenham now finished for another year, the show continues to roll on to Kempton, Uttoxeter, Newcastle and Fontwell on Saturday. But, as is always the case with racing, the form gets tested for weeks and months to come with two horses now having stronger claims thanks to their subsequent performance receiving a boost this week. 

On The Slopes lines up in the Kempton Novices’ Limited Handicap at 1.30pm off the back of a win, but it’s his previous performance that now catches the eye. Chris Gordon’s charge finished third at Cheltenham on trials day in the novice handicap which has now seen both Simply The Betts and Imperial Aura win this week – both in good style as well. He is up in the weights from his victory at this track, which suits his attacking run style, and now could still be well-treated off a mark of 136 giving him outstanding claims. 

Later on the card, Legal Eyes lines up in the Silver Bowl Handicap Chase at 15:15 for the Ben Pauling team. He returned from a wind operation 36 days ago when running out a comprehensive winner over three miles. He now drops half a mile in trip which probably wouldn’t be ideal but the writing was on the wall from long way out and I’d be hopeful that he could cope with it today in a large field. His form took a timely boost on Thursday when Kilfilum Cross finished a close second in the Kim Muir handicap and despite the 9 lb higher mark, Legal Eyes hasn’t finished improving and can go close.

A blessing in disguise for McFabulous?

A Graded winner in bumpers, McFabulous took a little while to come to hand over hurdles as he was turned over a short odds on his debut in that sphere before connections rolled the dice at Grade 2 level and saw him well-beaten. However, he has now shown that he may have needed further than the minimum trip when running out a comfortable winner in novice company. That was a facile success with it likely that he could have won by plenty more than the official three-and-a-quarter lengths and has been given what looks a gift of an opening mark of 132.

Connections might rue the fact that his mark meant that he missed the chance to run in the week at Cheltenham but the near £40,000 prize on offer here would soften the blow. He makes his handicap debut in the Grade 3 series final at Kempton on Saturday and will be well-fancied to add another win to his record over the 2m 5f trip on ground that suits - with it also possible that he’ll relish the big-field scenario. If running out a taking winner, Paul Nicholls would surely be tempted to give him an entry in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ hurdle could be on the agenda.

Can Downtown Getaway take another step up the ladder?

Downtown Getaway was a horse that arrived at Seven Barrows with masses of potential after one start in Ireland saw him run away with a bumper at Fairyhouse. Since joining Nicky Henderson, he’s only started one of his five races without favouritism, which came at Group 1 level. He was a short price for his handicap debut at Newbury back in November but stopped quickly that day and has since had a wind operation, which looks to have helped him. 

He only just saw off the persistent challenge of Palmers Hill at Kempton on his return just three weeks ago, but he’s assured to have come on for that fitness-wise and it’s hard to predict where the ceiling of his ability will lie. He was always handy that day as well and with it looking like the pace won’t be a frenetic one, he could well have the chance to set his own fractions again under Nico De Boinville, rounding off a superb week for Nicky Henderson – even by his usual standards!

Softer ground to suit Polish? 

Fergal O’Brien couldn’t have dreamed for a better start to life at his new yard in Gloucestershire – saddling 61 winners since the start of this campaign – with a strong case able to be made for Polish to add to that haul on Saturday. He takes his chance in the two-mile-six-furlong Novice handicap at Newcastle after an eye-catching fourth last time out. That came on comparatively quick ground compared to what we’ve had most of the winter and whilst he never threatened to win the race, the son of Teofilo made good late headway under Paddy Brennan to finish fourth. He shaped well and as if he wanted further, which he gets here today, and now on a softer surface as well, it will bring his excess stamina to the fore and he could take all the beating. 

His biggest danger looks to be in the shape of Minella Trump, whose pilot Brian Hughes will be hoping his mount can pose a threat. His latest start saw him demoted to second at Bangor after causing interference but he did ‘beat’ the much-higher rated The Cashel Man off level weights and if that form is taken at face value, he could find himself to be thrown in off a mark of 130.

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