It's back to the day job this afternoon for the week's gallant gladiators, with Uttoxeter the main arena and the Midlands Grand National the top prize. Run over nearly four and a quarter miles, this is a contest which requires as much stamina as a four-day Cheltenham Festival and produces a similar attrition rate. Over the past six runnngs 101 horses have taken part; just 42 have lasted to the finishing post.
With the horseboxes over en masse from Ireland anyway, it makes sense to put one on who can tackle the post-Festival feature, which offers a purse of £100,000. But it seems more than an afterthought for the raiders, who have produced three wins and two placings since 2002. Four take part today, Badgerlaw, Sea Diva, Hold The Pin and Operation Houdini. One quality necessary for success in what is always a dour slog is the ability to stay all day, though preferably not, as has been suggested of some of the competitors, in the same place. Last year's runner-up, Badgerlaw has proved his efficacy over course and distance and hails from the Jessica Harrington stable which took the race six years ago.
The nine-year-old had yet to win a chase when he produced his good effort 12 months ago – although he was beaten a long way, he did easily best of those who had raced close to the pace – but got off the mark at Limerick in October. Since then he has posted a series of consistent efforts over inadequate distances, including a fourth to the exciting prospect Joncol in a Grade Two contest at Naas last month. He races off a lower mark than last year, but is a more experienced, stronger horse.
Hold The Pin has made the cut with none to spare, and his shrewd trainer, Tony Martin, could do with a change of luck, having lost Clarified at Cheltenham on Thursday. The 10-year-old has not won for a year but is a dogged stayer and produced an encouraging run over hurdles at Punchestown six weeks ago. His stable, though, has been markedly out of form. The same caveat applies to another of today's likelier candidates, Companero but cannot be applied to Kilcrea Asla, whose trainer, Tom George, has sent out five winners from 13 runners in the past two weeks. The eight-year-old's recent form stands the closest of scrutiny based on results at Cheltenham; two runs ago he floundered in the mud behind Ping Pong Sivola, who very nearly won the Freddie Williams Plate, and Tricky Trickster, who did win the National Hunt Chase. And last time out he came home seven lengths clear of Character Building, winner of the Fulke Walwyn/Kim Muir Chase.
Kilcrea Asla has the assistance of Tony McCoy, but has a tough task to defy an 18lb rise since his first victory. Badgerlaw (3.10) can go one better.