First run under its present title in 2004, it superseded The Warwick National, which had its denouement in 2000. When run as ” The National ” lower weights were the order of the day, with quite a few winners coming from out of the handicap, but since it’s reinvention as ” The Classic ” a higher rated animal has been in the ascendency, with four of the last seven renewals being won by horses carrying 11st or more. Indeed Hey Big Spender won with the impost of 11st12lbs four years ago off a mark of 156. Inexperience hasn’t been a bar to success with two seven year olds, boasting only thirteen outings over the larger obstacles between them, coming home in front. (Baron Windrush 2007 and Shotgun Paddy 2014). Good recent form has proved important with seven of the last ten winners achieving a first three placing last time out. Paul Nicholls has an outstanding record with three winners from five runners, and Alan King hasn’t done so badly either, boasting two wins and a place from his seven entries over the past decade. Both Colin Tizzard and Venetia Williams have also hit the back of the net, but the Irish, who have six entries at the time of writing, have drawn a blank.
The Nicholls camp fields two competitors in this years renewal, and both are of interest. The 9yo Black Thunder was not unfancied for last weeks Welsh National, (he went off at 12/1 in the twenty runner field) but having been hampered at the 8th fence, he made a mistake at the 12th and unseated at the 13th. Every cloud has a silver lining however, and in this case the Nicholls contender was certainly saved a hard race, and when we note that two previous winners of Saturday’s contest had failed to complete in the Chepstow marathon, the performance need not be considered in a totally negative light. He races off a 3lb lower mark at the weekend so is worth considering.
The second Ditcheat contender, the 7yo Vivaldi Collonges, was having only his fourth outing over fences when trotting up in the Kelso mud (2m7 1/2f) at the beginning of December off a mark of 134. He has been raised 8lbs to a new mark of 142, but this animals pedigree is all about stamina and is highly likely to improve for Saturday’s step up in trip. It will be surprising to this observer if he doesn’t end the campaign on a considerably higher mark, and is short listed.
The Alan King trained Sego Success, got his act together when making all over 3miles at Doncaster off a mark of 139 five weeks ago. Sporting cheek pieces he led from the start and jumping for fun, he flew the last and stayed of strongly to win easily in a good time for the conditions. A winner of the novices chase on this card last year the tricky five fences down Warwick’s back straight should hold no fears so despite a 7lbs rise his chances are respected.
The Barbury Castle second string, Midnight Prayer is a very lightly raced 11yo who has had only sixteen career starts. He is three from seven over the larger obstacles, and showed what a classy animal he is when winning the 4miles National Hunt Chase at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival from Shotgun Paddy. Having his first run for a year he performed with credit when finishing fourth in a Newbury handicap seven weeks ago. He didn’t make it to the start for the welsh National because of a “coughing scare” but is now reported fit and off a mark of 135 giving him a nice racing weight of 10st7lbs this previous course winner looks well treated.
A winner of a Grade2 3m hurdle, giving him a rating of 148 over the smaller obstacles, Gordon Elliot’s Mala Beach should be much more at home over Saturday’s trip than the 2m5f chase he contested on his last visit to these shores, at Ascot before Christmas. Having clouted the first he didn’t have the necessary speed to trouble the winner but did finish second beaten 11L. That was only his fifth race over fences and apart from the initial blunder his jumping was fine, so in the hands of his superb trainer, it would come as no surprise to see this well treated horse (6lbs lower than his hurdle rating) run a big race at the weekend.
Selection: Vivaldi Collonges.
E.W. : Midnight Prayer. If absent Mala Beach.