Saturday’s Eider Handicap Chase will be a four-mile gruelling slog through the mud.
In similar conditions in 2011, just three horses finished, with nine runners pulled-up. Of the three finishers, Companero took the race by 30-lengths with a distance back to the third. Both the winner and runner-up had clambered over the last, whilst the third home had pulled-up between the last two fences, only to carry on once the jockey realised his position in the race. I paint an unpleasant picture, but this may well prove to be an ugly race, much like last week’s Grand National trial at Haydock, when Blaklion barely got over the last when finishing a 50-length runner-up.
This sort of race does not suit everyone. And that goes for both horses and viewers. Saturday’s renewal will go to a mud-lover with a heart the size of a bucket. Yet don’t be fooled into thinking that those at the top of the handicap are no-hopers. During this century, heavy ground was encountered in 2014, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2001 and 2000. Winners carried 11-0, 11-0, 11-1, 11-12, 11-6, 11-5 and just to ruin it, 10-2.
A maximum of 18 go to post tomorrow, with Chase The Spud the highest rated at 149. Fergal O’Brien’s 10-year-old loves the mud but is on a career high mark. Now 10lbs higher than when winning at Haydock in November, he has since been pulled-up in the Welsh National. This contest is undoubtedly less competitive, and he proved himself a dour stayer when winning the Midlands National at Uttoxeter last year.
The Harry Whittington-trained Vinnie Lewis currently heads the betting following his victory in the Sussex National at Plumpton. The seven-year-old was impressive that day, coping admirably with testing conditions. He had fair yardsticks in Henri Parry Morgan and Shotgun Paddy well behind him, though is hit with a 9lb rise in the handicap. This race usually goes to a fancied contender and this son of Vinnie Roe out of a Sir Harry Lewis mare looks a likely sort.
Daklondike is second-best in the betting, with the six-year-old successful in three of his five starts over fences. He stayed on well to win in testing ground at Newbury last time when defeating Colin Tizzard’s gorgeous grey, Grand Vision. Conditions and trip look sure to suit, though there’s a chance this race will come a little early in his fledgling career. No six-year-old has ever won the Eider.
Sue Smith has a leading contender in her seven-year-old Hainan. He’s a mud-lover that needs a marathon trip, having looked outpaced at Haydock last time (3m1f) before staying-on late. Prior to that he’d won well over further at the Merseyside track, comfortably accounting for seven rivals that included Emperor’s Choice.
Milansbar ran a cracker last time at Warwick but takes a mighty hike in the ratings. Bryony Frost will be back onboard and her 5lb claim will help, but I’d be surprised if he can follow-up having failed in this race last year.
West Of The Edge ran well last time at Haydock when chasing home Emperor’s Choice. He’s better off at the weights with that rival, though that may not be enough to win this. The 10-year-old will enjoy the trip and conditions, but there may be a few more progressive types in the field.
I fancy the betting has it about right and I’m favouring Harry Whittington’s Vinnie Lewis. His lack of experience is a concern, but he looks capable of improving beyond these. The yard are also having a great time at present.
Best of luck to those having a punt.