Oliver Sherwood is hoping Dominateur can give him a first success in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.
Dominateur is a dual winner over a near three-mile trip at the Monmouthshire venue in testing conditions, including on this card 12 months ago.
The seven-year-old did could manage only a distant seventh in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in March just before the lockdown, and returned to the track in a Listed contest at Sandown just seven weeks ago.
But his Upper Lambourn trainer – who famously landed the Grand National at Aintree in 2015 with Many Clouds – was pleased with that comeback run and has been delighted with Dominateur’s preparation for the prestigious long-distance handicap chase, for which 18 have been declared on Sunday.
“I’m very happy with him. This has been the plan with him since he won on that day last year,” said Sherwood.
“He’s got a good record around there. He loves the softer ground. It’s a big ask for a second-season novice to go over three-mile-six, but I think I’m going to win a Welsh National one day.
“We missed an engagement at Chepstow, the trial meeting, only because we couldn’t get a jockey. It was nothing to do with the horse.
“He’s had an away-day. I was happy enough with his first run back against better opposition. He made a couple of mistakes, but he’s had a session schooling at Laura Collett’s. I’ve just been happy with him, and he’s all set to go.”
Secret Reprieve has been top of the ante-post market since winning the official trial for the race in convincing fashion three weeks ago.
The six-year-old may be short on experience, but trainer Evan Williams believes he has plenty going for him.
“It’s a big ask, but we’re at the right end of the weights, and sometimes you’ve got to give these things a go when you are relatively unexposed,” said Williams, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.
“I think course form is probably the most important thing as far as the Welsh National is concerned, and he’s won his maiden hurdle around Chepstow and won over fences a few weeks ago round there.
“We think the track suits him, and that’s very important – the biggest plus you can get because the track doesn’t suit them all. I do think it’s a track that suits certain horses, very much that type of track.
“As far as the distance is concerned, I don’t know if he’ll stay. I’d be guessing – I’ve no evidence he’ll stay, so we’ll roll the dice and fingers crossed. (But) he wouldn’t be in the race if I didn’t think he’d stay.
“It is a gamble, going into the race with so little experience. But we like him, and it’s only once in his life he’s going to get into this race off this weight.”
Of his other runner, Prime Venture, the Llancarfan handler said: “You’d have to say this horse goes into the race in better form really (than last year).”
Tom Symonds was pleased with Bobo Mac’s third behind Secret Reprieve in the trial, and reports the nine-year-old to be in rude health for the main event.
“I was delighted with his prep run. He was really good. He had a good feel for the track, which was the point of it as a trial, so we were happy with that,” said the Ross-on-Wye handler.
“He’s a horse that has taken a bit of getting to know in terms of chasing. But we’re getting there slowly, and clear rounds make a difference, so we’re really thrilled with him.
“As long as he switches off as he has been doing, I don’t think the trip will be a problem. It’s all about keeping him in a rhythm.
“We’re very happy with him, and he will wear cheekpieces – which he has worn before.”
Truckers Lodge and Yala Enki were second and third respectively last year for Paul Nicholls, and are back for more.
“They’re both in great shape,” he said.
“Truckers Lodge went up to Kelso and unseated Lorcan (Williams), which was a bit unfortunate. He’s had an away-day as well.
“With Lorcan’s 3lb claim, he’s going to carry 11st 5lb, which is a bit more than last year – but it was only his fourth run over fences, and he’s improved enormously. He’s in great shape and will love the ground.
“Yala Enki has got to carry 11st 12lb, but the distance and the ground suits him.
“He carried 11st 12lb at Cheltenham earlier in the season and got beaten a short head in a really good race. He only got as far as the first in the Becher Chase at Aintree – but in a lot of ways that was a bonus, because it meant he didn’t have a hard race.
“I’m looking forward to running both horses.”
Christmas In April was pulled up in the Midlands National when sent off the 11-2 favourite, but Colin Tizzard’s charge showed he was approaching his best when runner-up on his return at Fontwell last month.
He does have a National on his record already, the Sussex version at Plumpton in January.
“I thought he ran a solid race last time at Fontwell. He did get a bit tired, but he is a horse that always improves from his first run,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father.
“He loves these extreme races. There is not necessarily a class horse in the race this year, and he is on a lovely racing weight – which gives him a chance.
“He has been competing in these sort of races at a lesser grade, but we know the trip and conditions will be fine for him.
“He has progressed through these National-type races, and we thought this was an obvious target for him before the new year.”
Tom George is not at all concerned about the testing conditions for Springfield Fox, who is in his element when the mud is flying.
“His preparation has been exactly as we wanted it to be. He’s had the one run over hurdles, which blew the cobwebs away, and he’s been schooling nicely over fences,” George told Sky Sports Racing.
“It will never get too soft for Springfield Fox. He absolutely adores wet ground.”