Paul Nicholls is anticipating a big effort from Truckers Lodge as he tries to reclaim his Boulton Group Midlands Grand National title.
Successful by 18 lengths in heavy ground at Uttoxeter two seasons ago, the bay was then subject to a steep rise in his rating as the handicapper reassessed him to a mark of 155.
Winless in six runs since, the gelding has gradually climbed down to rating of 149 and will carry 11st 2lbs in the weekend’s staying contest.
Evidently able to handle the soft conditions expected at Uttoxeter on Saturday, Nicholls is hoping Truckers Lodge can recreate the tough display of stamina he produced two seasons ago.
“He was raised a massive 14lb after winning this race in runaway style two years ago, but he has been steadily coming back to form this season and was close to his best when third to Fortescue at Ascot a month ago over three miles,” he said.
“The handicapper promptly raised Truckers Lodge 3lb to 149, but we know this horse stays all day and the ground at Uttoxeter will be much the same as it was two years ago.
“He is in good shape and I’m hopeful of a big run from him.”
Nicholls also runs top-weight Yala Enki, a popular veteran who comes into the race off the back of two successive wins this season.
“He has been a star for us in staying chases and comes here unbeaten this season at the age of 12 after winning the marathon Portman Cup at Taunton for the third year running,” the trainer told Betfair.
“This is Yala Enki’s last race before he goes off on holiday and while ground conditions are in his favour, he is up against it carrying top weight of 11st 12lb in a typically competitive Midlands Grand National.”
Fergal O’Brien’s Final Nudge is another seasoned campaigner who was third last year and returns to the marathon event after two good runs this season in veterans’ chases.
“He is in great form and we are very happy with him,” said O’Brien.
“He ran really well in it last year when finishing third and ran very well in the Veterans’ Final at Sandown last time after winning at Warwick.
“We couldn’t be happier with him and he will go on any ground, so we are really looking forward to running him.”
Evan Williams will be represented in the race by bottom-weight Supreme Escape, an eight-year-old who was last seen winning the North Yorkshire Grand National Handicap at Catterick in mid-January.
“He is out of the weights and it will be tough, but he stays well and that’s half the battle,” he said.
“The one thing I can guarantee is that he will stay. He jumps well and the kid (Joe Anderson) rides him, so fingers crossed he gives Joe a good ride.”
Irish hopes are well-represented with leading fancy Hewick, a Durham National winner trained in Carlow by John ‘Shark’ Hanlon.
“I just hope the ground won’t be too soft, that’s all I’m afraid of,” he said.
“He’s in good form and has come back a stronger horse since having a break.
“This has been the plan since his last win. I would just rather they hadn’t had the rain.”
William Durkan’s Screaming Colours was fourth last season and should relish the testing conditions this time as much of his form is on heavy ground.
“He had a bit of setback, that’s all, but he’s been fine and he’s not a horse that’s ever going to be over raced,” Durkan said of the gelding, who has been off the track since October.
“He was fourth last year and ran a good race then, the ground was good to soft but he’ll go on softer.
“He likes the soft ground, this is a horse with form on heavy so that wouldn’t be a problem.
“I hope he’ll go well, I hope he’ll win! I’ll be watching it on television.”