The now, sadly departed, Toby Balding, won the Eider an impressive 4 times, 3 of them with his Aintree Hero, Highland Wedding, but no handler, has managed to even double up, since Toby landed his 4th success with Lucky Vane in 1984. However, one stat that does stand out, has been the success rate of runners from the Emerald Isle, three of whom have collected in the the last 16 renewals, representing a pretty impressive strike rate from the relatively few runners entered from across the Irish Sea. The Celtic challenge, with 3 contenders this year, is numerically stronger than usual, and all three are worth a second look.
High flying, Gordon Elliott, relies on the 12yo, Folsom Blue, who as a veteran of 30 chases, is obviously well exposed, but showed that he can still perform at a decent level when finishing 4th of 16 in a Grade3, 3m Sandown Handicap 3 weeks ago, where he was putting in his best work in the closing stages. His mark on Saturday of 144 looks plenty high enough, but this is the first time he has tackled 4miles+ since contesting The Scottish National in 2016, where he was going ominously well when brought down at the 6th last fence. His brilliant trainer certainly knows the time of day with these stayers, and it won’t come as a surprise to see his 12yo involved at the business end.
The second of the Irish challengers, is the evergreen 14yo veteran, Raz De Maree, trained by his upwardly mobile handler, Gavin Cromwell. The son of Shamaan, has won 5 of his 31 starts over fences, and if one is supposed to deteriorate with age, no one has told Raz De Maree, as he put up his career best performance, when winning the (delayed) 2017 Welsh Grand National, as a 13yo on heavy ground, off a mark of 140.
He ran well enough again in the Chepstow marathon this year, finishing 5th, staying on strongly. Not surprisingly, he would be the first of his age to win The Eider, but two 13yo’s, Pontin Go (1967) and Peaty Sandy, (1987) have managed to, and if Raz De Mee gets his preferred heavy ground, Gosforth Park could witness quite an emotional climax to the race.
The third Irish contender, the 9yo, Kilkishen, won for the first time over fences, at his 7th attempt, when winning at Fairyhouse on New Years Day, when virtually making all.” He can be excused his poor performance 6 weeks later, as buried in midfield, he could never get to the front, and finished a well beaten 7th. However the step up to 4m on Saturday could be a definite plus, as he is by that strong influence for stamina, Oscar, is a full brother to the talented staying hurdler, Louis Vac Pouch, and his dam,
Coming Home, was a strong stayer on the flat in France.
David Pipe, who won with the subsequent Grand National Hero, Comply Or Die, runs the progressive looking 7yo, Daklondike. He ran his best race to date when winning The 2m7f Tommy Whittle Chase on heavy ground at Haydock in December, but sent off the 4/1 favourite on faster ground, at the same venue 4 weeks later, he never got into any sort of rhythm, and unseated Tom Scudamore at the 5th fence. Out of the brood mare, Strong Irish, he is a half brother to the very talented Great Endeavour, and by Gold Well, an unraced full brother to top stallion Montjeu, and sire of last year’s Irish Grand National winner Isleofhopenddreams, there is an abundance of stamina in his pedigree, and if it comes up soft will be a danger to all.
The Sue Smith (pictured) trained 8yo, Sharp Response, put up a quietly impressive staying performance, at Catterick, (3m6f Good) 45 days ago. Jumping from fence to fence, and keeping on strongly off his mark of 134, he came home 5L clear of the 122 rated Little Bruce, (rec17lbs) which makes Saturday’s mark of 140 look very fair. Nicely bred as a staying chaser, he is by Oscar, and is a half brother to the 152 rated Ballyoptic,
(beaten a nose in last year’s Scottish National) and I don’t think 140 is the limit of this animal’s potential.
If Newcastle avoids a lot of rain for the rest of the week, the Paul Nicholls trained, double Scottish National Laureate, Vicente, should find conditions ideal. Once considered a Spring horse, the Paul Nicholls trained 10yo has become more versatile season wise, and had a nice pipe opener, when finishing 3rd at Taunton 5 weeks ago. He is a pound lower on Saturday so should be competitive.
Since coming to The Skelton yard last July, the 9yo, Ange Des Malberaux, has won 5 of his 7 starts, and seems to get better the further he goes. He hacked up over 3m3 1/2f at Market Rasen in December, and really caught the eye last time when winning very easily at Warwick 33 days ago off a mark of 117. He cruised home from the 40/1 outsider Oneida Tribe, and had the 122 rated Muckle Roe 9 1/2L back in third. Rated 127, he needs 2 to come out to get a run on Saturday, but if he does get into the contest, he is going to have a lovely racing weight of 10-1.
Selection : Sharp Response
EW. : Ange Des Malberaux (if abs Folsom Blue)