Anyone who has sustained heavy damage at Cheltenham this week will approach the big race at Uttoxeter today with unusual empathy. For the Totesport Midlands Grand National gives horses a good approximation of how most punters feel, after negotiating their own gruelling marathon over the past four days.
Nearly four and a quarter miles through the mud represents one of the most exacting tests of the calendar, so much so that last year Synchronised beat only two other finishers. He returns today off a 16lb higher mark, a measure of his further improvement in his only subsequent start over fences, victorious in the Welsh National.
With so few miles on the clock, and having been left in the Gold Cup itself until the final declaration stage in the hope of softer ground at Cheltenham, he can be opposed only with reluctance. In his prime at the age of eight, he has won four out of only five steeplechases, and matches stamina and guts with a touch of class. But the fact remains that he could easily achieve a new career best, at the weights, in defeat.
His biggest danger could turn out to be one who shared his journey from Jonjo O'Neill's yard in the Cotswolds. For the concession of 20lb to a stablemate with as much ability as Alfie Sherrin (3.0) could prove a bridge too far. Still unexposed after just three novice chases, Alfie Sherrin outstayed a strong field of handicappers over hurdles at Newbury last winter and has always promised to make a better chaser. The way he weakened after a mistake at Warwick last time, having travelled strongly, hinted that the race may have come too soon after his win at Wetherby.
Channel 4 also has cameras at Newcastle, where Kings Guard (3.20) warrants another chance after not quite meeting expectations at Kelso last time. The going will be more to his taste here.
Chris Mcgrath's Nap
Basford Bob (2.25 Uttoxeter) Has shown plenty of ability in novice hurdles, doing well to close so smoothly off an inadequate pace last time.
Speed Dating (1.55 Uttoxeter) The blinkers he wore when thriving on the Flat along with the booking of McCoy promise more off a manageable rating.
One to Watch
Tenor Nivernais (Venetia Williams) was set plenty to do at Cheltenham on Wednesday, but finished really well.
Where the money's going
Hurricane Fly is 3-1 from 7-2 with Sky Bet to retain the Stan James Champion Hurdle next year.