David Pipe expects the three and a half miles of the William Hill Grand National Trial Handicap Chase to prove a proper stamina test, despite drying ground at Haydock.
The Nicholashayne trainer saddles Vieux Lion Rouge, who took this prize in 2017, and Welsh Grand National runner-up Ramses De Teillee in Saturday’s Merseyside feature.
“Both horses are in good form. They would appreciate softer ground,” said Pipe.
“Vieux Lion Rouge probably did too much in the blinkers last time, so we’ve gone back to sheepskin sidepieces.
“Ramses De Teillee obviously ran a very good race in the Welsh Grand National.
“We were thinking about running him beforehand, but the ground wasn’t right. The ground is drying out again, but it will be tacky old work out there. They’ve all got to go on it.”
Both horses hold entries in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree in April.
Pipe added: “Vieux Lion Rouge will run in this race at Haydock and then the National afterwards.
“I don’t know about Ramses De Teillee. We’ll see how Saturday goes first.”
Vieux Lion Rouge is one of three past winners of the race, along with last year’s victor Yala Enki and Bishops Road – who was successful in 2016.
Pipe used to train The Two Amigos, who is enjoying a new lease of life at Nicky Martin’s stable in Minehead.
The seven-year-old appears to have been revitalised by a spell point-to-pointing last year, and is unbeaten in four handicap chases since returning under rules.
“It’s a big test for him, especially considering he was only point-to-pointing last year,” said Martin.
“He’s got to that stage in the handicap where we haven’t really got that many options.
“He’ll try his best. Providing the ground does not dry out too much, he’ll be fine.
“He’s done everything right. Matt Griffiths (his regular jockey) came in and schooled him on Thursday morning, and he was perfect.
“Fingers crossed – if it rained I’d be a little but happier. He’s only a little horse, but he’ll put his all into it.”
Impulsive Star heads to Haydock on the back of victory in the Classic Chase at Warwick.
The nine-year-old was put up 6lb for that success, which his trainer Neil Mulholland believes was fair.
“He did well last time out in the Classic Chase. Thankfully, the handicapper didn’t go too mad,” he said.
He also runs Carole’s Destrier, who has a nice pull in the weights with his stable companion from Warwick – where he was a creditable fourth.
“He’s meeting Impulsive Star 6lb better off. He’s run well on his last couple of runs – and the ground drying out all the time will be in his favour,” added the Somerset handler.
The Sue Smith-trained Wakanda is reported to be in rude health following his triumph in the Peter Marsh Chase at this course last month.
“He goes there in good order,” said Harvey Smith, assistant to his wife.
Red Infantry, who was fifth in the Peter Marsh and a previous course winner, is reported to be in fine shape by his trainer Ian Williams.
“Red Infantry is in good form at home. His long-term target is the Grand National, and we will learn more about him on Saturday.
“He is progressing nicely, jumps well – and we are looking forward to running at Haydock.”
Evan Williams is looking forward to running Pobbles Bay, after the nine-year-old did not make the cut for the Welsh Grand National.
“His season revolved around the Welsh National, and he didn’t get in there,” said the Llancarfan trainer.
“I’m been trying to find the ideal opportunity since. I wanted to run him in a good staying handicap race with a good prize and a feather weight. I’m very happy with the horse.”
The sole Irish raider is Ah Littleluck, who is making his handicap debut after winning for the first time over fences at Navan last time out.
“It’s a big ask,” said his trainer Tom Gibney.
“It’s his first run in a handicap, a competitive handicap at that, and it’s his first time over the distance – but we’re going to give it a go and see how we get on.
“There’s good money on offer.”