This Saturday, Newcastle racecourse will stage the annual running of the Eider Chase which is run over a marathon distance of 4m 1f. The race, which at one point in time was renamed the “Northern National” is regarded by some trainers and owners as the ideal prep race for the actual Grand National at Aintree in just under two months time.
Due to the time of year the race takes place, the conditions more often than not tend to be testing, providing a unique stamina contest for the horses and jockeys alike. Invariably over the years the trends tend to point to about half the field failing to complete the race and on many occasions there are single digit finishers. It isn’t always the prettiest of races to watch for those very reasons.
As recently as 2008 David Pipe saddled Comply Or Die to do the Eider-Grand National double so it just proves that a horse can come out of this race perfectly fine and run an equally good race at Aintree.
Horses entered this weekend that also have a Grand National entry are: Milansbar, Houblon Des Obeaux and Chase The Spud.
Other notable entries include the 2017 Eider Chase runner-up Knockanrawley and 2014 Welsh Grand National winner Emperor’s Choice.
The seven-year-old Vinnie Lewis was an easy winner at Plumpton last time out over 3m4f in heavy ground so stepping up to this 4m trip is no forlorn hope. He has taken a 9lb rise for that victory but has had almost 50 days to recover.
Vinnie Lewis recorded an easy win on soft ground at Sedgefield in November before following up on heavy ground at Plumpton last month under Harry Bannister.
His trainer, Harry Whittington, hopes the testing conditions will help his Sussex National winner take another step forward and defy a 23lb rise based on his previous exertions.
The top-weighted Chase The Spud is known for his staying prowess and despite being pulled-up in the Welsh National last time out he was a good winner of the Midlands National last season. Fergal O’Brien’s 10-year-old is one of the few proven distance winners in the field with there being question marks over plenty of the others. Worryingly however he is a massive 19lbs higher than his Midlands National win and 10lbs higher than his Haydock victory in November and this may prove just too much of an anchor off a mark of 149.
Neil King and Bryony Frost will maintain their partnership with Milansbar on Saturday.
The pair teamed up to win the Classic Chase at Warwick last time out when the reinvigorated eleven-year-old galloped his rivals into submission.
Four miles in heavy ground should be perfect and the race looks tailor-made for him. Milansbar has been second in a Midlands National so he should stay out the trip perfectly well.
Despite a 9lb rise and Frost’s claim dropping by 2lb since that January success, the pair look like being major contenders.
West Of The Edge ran over hurdles on his first two outings this season before a career-best effort when three and a half lengths second to the front-running Emperor's Choice at Haydock last time out.
Out of the top class jumps sire Westerner, West Of The Edge is a fantastic jumper and stays all day long. He won the Lincolnshire National in 2015 by sixlengths, forging clear jumping the last and could easily have gone round again. He is now trained by Dr Richard Newland who is hitting top form at the moment.
Themanfrom Minella ground out a hard fought win in the Higos Insurance Services Somerset National at Wincanton last time out, following up on his victory at Warwick.
With just 10st to carry on Saturday he will be hard to ignore but whether he is quite up to the grade remains to be seen.
Baywing is another who looks the type to excel in a race such as this. He plenty of heavy ground form, clocking up a four-time in the mud in his 2015/16 season. He ran well in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day, and probably ran over an inadequate trip at this venue last time out.
Ryan Day takes of 3lb and the nine-year-old should put up a good show for his trainer Nicky Richards.
Sue Smith’s Hainan and Smooth Stepper will prove popular choices on the day with Hainan being of the most interest.
Hainan was last seen when finishing third in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock and on that occasion had Yala Enki behind him. Yala Enki subsequently went on to frank that form in the Grand National Trial last Saturday.
Smooth Stepper can handle heavy ground but appears to need plenty of encouragement over a sustained amount of time in these marathon contests.
Nine to eleven-year-olds have won eight of the last ten renewals of this race so siding with an older, more experienced horse, could be the key.
Milansbar is having his second lease of life after a spell in the doldrums and his jockey seems to be making all the difference to his wellbeing.
888sport suggests: Milansbar (e/w)
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*