Nicky Richards fears the good ground at Newcastle will be against Baywing as he bids for back-to-back wins in the Vertem Eider Handicap Chase at Newcastle.
A hugely impressive winner of the extended four-mile marathon 12 months ago on heavy ground, Baywing faces completely different conditions at Gosforth Park on Saturday.
“I’d say there’s no doubt about it, we’d prefer much softer ground for him,” said the Greystoke trainer.
“It’s a very long trip, though – there aren’t many races as long as this, so I hope that will help bring his stamina into play.
“I think we’ll know our fate after a circuit. If he’s able to keep in touch on the first circuit, then he might be able to creep into like last year.
“We know that he’s an exceptional stayer on soft ground – he’s got to prove he can do it in different circumstances.”
Richards also runs Progress Drive for the first time since a wind operation, and he feels the lightly-raced eight-year-old is also cut out for this stamina test.
“This will only be his second run at this kind of trip,” he said.
“He’s a nice horse, and he’s still young in terms of an out-and-out stayer.
“He ran a nice race in the Borders National when he was third – and he was staying on.
“I hope he can get into a good rhythm. These younger horses need to learn how to race over these sort of trips – they’ve got to switch off – but (jockey) Brian (Hughes) is good at that, and he knows him well.
“I think he’s just the type for this sort of race, and I hope he’ll run well.”
Ben Haslam has enjoyed a great season with horses in the famous green and gold colours of J P McManus – including with dual winner Rock On Fruity.
The 10-year-old, previously been trained by Charles Byrnes in Ireland, has thrived on the switch to Haslam’s Middleham yard – but he has to prove his stamina.
“He’s got plenty of speed – he’s won over two and a half,” said Haslam.
“It’s a question of getting him switched off and settled. I thought he jumped well round there the last day. If he gets into a rhythm and stays, I think he will be competitive.
“He’s got some very good form in Ireland. He was placed in a Grade Three. I’m not saying he’s improved, because he is 10. He always has had that kind of ability.
“It’s probably the fact in England, especially up here in the north, if a horse can get a bit of confidence they have got more chance of getting back on track.
“The change of scenery may well have helped, but at the same time I think he’s just been able to get his confidence back.”
Dr Richard Newland is always a man to note in long-distance chases and is represented by bottom weight West Of The Edge, last year’s runner-up.
“He’s not shown the same spark this year, and he would prefer the ground to be more testing, but we have trained him for the race – so we will see how we get on,” said Newland.
Crosspark has been in consistent form this season for Caroline Bailey, with wins at Uttoxeter and Southwell supplemented by a fine third in the Classic Chase at Warwick.
“He ran a cracking race at Warwick in the Classic Chase just after Christmas when he was third – he was competitive until coming to the last,” Bailey told Racing TV.
“This will be his first time over further, but he settles better now so he deserves to take his chance.
“He’s a great jumper, touch wood. He’s consistent, he’s dead honest and there’s no side to him – he wears his heart on his sleeve.
“If he gets into a rhythm and he’s thereabouts three out, you know he’ll do his best for you.”
There are two Irish-trained runners, Gavin Cromwell’s 14-year-old Raz De Maree, last season’s Welsh National winner who was fifth when bidding for a repeat last time out, and Shark Hanlon’s Kilkishen.
“He’ll love the trip, the ground won’t be a bother to him – mand I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on,” said Hanlon.
“Danny (Mullins) is going over to ride him – and he wasn’t beaten too far at Punchestown, considering he got left at the start at bit.
“I like the way he did it at Fairyhouse before then, and this has been the target since. I couldn’t be happier.”