Caroline Bailey is confident Crosspark is as good as ever as he prepares to defend his Eider Chase crown off top weight at Newcastle.
The 11-year-old won the last running of the Vertem-sponsored handicap by just a neck in 2019, defeating Michael Scudamore’s Mysteree, and is vying for favouritism in this year’s renewal.
Crosspark has not tasted victory since, with a repeat performance in 2020 ruled out when the fixture was abandoned, but he was second in the 2019 Scottish Grand National and has also finished runner-up in all of four outings this season – no more than a length behind the winner on each occasion.
“He’s been in as good a form as ever,” said his trainer.
“You can’t knock the horse at all – he tries his little heart out.
“I’m very happy with him. He had a little break after Sandown (runner-up in the veterans’ final early last month), and we freshened him up.”
Tristan Davidson’s The Dutchman also lines up this weekend, having last been seen taking a late when leading into the straight in the Grade Three Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day.
Davidson reports the 11-year-old, winner of the 2018 Peter Marsh Chase when with Colin Tizzard, to be in good form at home.
Davidson is hopeful rather than certain he will handle this extended trip, however.
The Cumbria trainer said: “He’s well – Sean Quinlan came and schooled him the other day, and he schooled well.
“We’re hoping for a big race. He was unlucky at Wetherby, but that’s racing – he was going well that day.
“The ground won’t bother him at all. I just hope he stays four miles one (furlong), that’s my only doubt.”
Tom George is represented by Springfield Fox, who will run in cheekpieces after being pulled up in both the Welsh Grand National and on his subsequent appearance in the Dick Hunt Chase at Wincanton.
George said: “It’s been a bit frustrating for him this season – because he had a good run over hurdles, and then in the Welsh National he was always going one stride quicker than he wanted to.
“We needed to run him again, and the same thing happened at Wincanton.
“I’d like to think a pair of cheekpieces will sharpen him up, and he shouldn’t be out of his comfort zone over four and a quarter miles.”
Lucinda Russell’s Big River also takes his chance, having finished eighth in the Welsh National in January.
Russell considers the 11-year-old to be in better shape than he was before that run, and expects him to be suited by the marathon trip.
“He ran a good race in the Welsh National, and I think he’s better now than he was before then,” she said.
“They’re probably his sort of conditions. Four miles is his sort of trip – and if the ground is soft enough he could run a big race.”
Russell has also entered outsider Haul Us In, absent since finishing sixth at Bangor in November and who runs from 4lb out of the handicap but has Blair Campbell’s claim offsetting 3lb of that off bottom weight.
Russell said: “She’s been unfortunate – she’s missed a few races because of the weather.
“Ideally she’d have run at least another once, if not twice, before coming into this race.
“We decided this was going to be our aim for her for this season.
“We’ve been brave and put the entry in and tried to get her as right as we can at home. She’s probably got a chance at a big price.”
Brian Ellison’s Sam’s Adventure heads the market, with David Bridgwater’s Salty Boy and Matt Sheppard’s Cyclop also at the top end of the betting.
Paul Henderson runs Crossley Tender, with David Pipe’s Little Red Lion, Ian Duncan’s Strong Economy and Martin Smith’s Friends Don’t Ask completing the field of 12.