Racing: Ireland can bring the week to a fitting end at Uttoxeter

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The Independent Online

As the dust settles on Cheltenham, the Irish can continue their depredations on a lesser battlefield today. The John Smith's Midlands Grand National, over four and a quarter miles in heavy ground, provides a fitting end to a gruelling week for punters and jockeys alike.

Several of the runners have already proven themselves ideally suited by such a slog, but they are vulnerable to the improvement expected in a horse stepping into uncharted waters.

Two years ago this week, on his first start in two months, G V A Ireland finished second in the Pertemps Final at the Festival. Today, returning from a similar break, he runs off a 3lb lower chase rating and is confidently expected to relish this new test of stamina.

He ran an excellent fifth of 26 in the valuable Paddy Power Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting, staying on again after losing his position to be beaten under five lengths. He may have been feeling those exertions at the same course next time, but that race was run at an unsuitably steady gallop anyway.

G V A IRELAND (nap 2.55) has since been freshened up by his astute trainer, who has had this race in mind for a long time. The gelding gets plenty of weight from the plodders, and the booking of Ruby Walsh for the first time is the icing on the cake.

Flat racing returns to turf next week and Channel 4 prepares for the change of tempo by covering the climax of the all-weather season at Lingfield. But they will be off the air before the best opportunity on the card presents itself through Prince Samos (next best 5.25).

He showed he goes well fresh when winning his maiden over course and distance last year and followed up in a handicap at Sandown that proved one of the strongest of its kind all season. He did not build on that, but as a result looks very fairly handicapped if he can make a fresh start here.

The Winter Derby looks extremely close to call and includes the first four home in the Derby trial over this course and distance three weeks ago. The pair who fought out the finish that day, Grand Passion (3.15) and Red Spell may dominate proceedings again and the selection, who looks a revitalised performer for the Geoff Wragg stable, may hold the call. Les Arcs (2.05) and Kingsgate Prince (2.40) are others to note.

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