Sam Twiston-Davies is brimming with confidence about Bristol De Mai as he prepares to partner the popular grey for only the third time in the William Hill Grand National Trial Handicap at Haydock.
Twiston-Davies, who has won and been placed on the 11-year-old, is standing in for the injured Daryl Jacob, the retained rider for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
He finished a close third on Bristol De Mai over an inadequate distance at Lingfield last month and is delighted to be riding him at the Merseyside track, where he is a course specialist with five victories, including the Betfair Chase three times.
“I suppose if you were going to invent a race for Bristol De Mai, it would be a three-and-a-half-mile chase on heavy ground around Haydock,” said Twiston-Davies.
“The handicap part makes it a bit more difficult, but he seems in fantastic nick at home. His schooling has been good and he’s been pleasing since Lingfield, so it’s very much fingers crossed and we hope for the best.
“It was a really good run at Lingfield. The thing about it, it was only over two-miles-six – a couple more furlongs and it might have been different.
“It showed he’d got his old bite. He jumped well, he never gave up and it was great to see and set us up for a race like this. All the conditions are in his favour.
“When he’s got his ground I’ve every faith he can still do it. There is so much in his favour this weekend, we’ll get a true picture of where we are with him.”
Evan Williams is not too concerned about ground conditions when Secret Reprieve goes for glory. The eight-year-old is proven on soft ground and is reported by his trainer to be in fine shape following his comeback effort in the Welsh National at Chepstow in December.
Secret Reprieve ran well for a long way in his first race since he lifted the prize last winter before the lack of a recent outing took its toll. He weakened from the third-last fence to finish a distant fifth behind Iwilldoit.
“He’s grand, everything is good. It’s going to be very tough conditions, but we’ll give it a go,” said the Llancarfan handler.
“I don’t think it was as heavy at Chepstow as they said it was. If they were running this race at Chepstow, I’d be far happier than at Haydock.
“There are no excuses. He handles anything when he’s on song and this looked the logical place to go after the Welsh National. He ran a very good race on his return. He ran a much better race than his finishing place suggested.
“We have no issues whatever. The horse ran well, he looks well and it looks a logical place to go. Everything is good and the horses have continued in good form throughout the winter months so, fingers crossed, we’ve got no excuses.”
Time To Get Up bids to get back on track and make amends for missing out on a place in the Randox Grand National.
Last season’s Midlands National hero was not qualified for the Aintree showpiece this year as he is one short of having the necessary six races over fences.
The nine-year-old had a setback after a disappointing run in the Grand Sefton over the National fences in November, which prevented trainer Jonjo O’Neill from getting him back on the course before this month’s deadline before the weights were announced this week.
“He’s been a while off, but Jonjo thinks he’s in good form and hopefully he’ll give a good account of himself,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.
“He ran out of time to get him qualified for the Grand National. It was a pity, but Jonjo is hoping he can run well on Saturday.
“He has to show he is back to where he was when he won the Midlands National. There are a load of other opportunities for him. We’ll know more after Saturday where he can go.”
Enqarde attempts to improve on his fifth place behind Lord Du Mesnil 12 months ago and did win the Tommy Whittle Chase over three furlongs shorter here in December.
“It will be very testing and he ran in the race last year and seemed to weaken at the end of the race,” said trainer Dr Richard Newland.
“We thought it was worth giving him another go. Obviously it’s going to be very hard work. He’s in great form and we’ll just see whether he’s up to it, We’ll know once and for all whether these extreme trips work for him. It’s going to be a tough race, that is for sure.”
Sidi Ismael’s bid for a four-timer ended with a fall at Catterick, but trainer David Pipe reports the eight-year-old to be fine as he steps up in class.
Pipe said: “It is a big step up in class, but with Bristol De Mai in there he has no weight.
“It will be a case of whether he is classy enough. If he isn’t we will find another slightly smaller race. He seems fine after that fall at Catterick.”