Devon National tips – Runner-by-runner guide to Exeter’s feature
Brian Healy looks over Friday’s big-race field at Exeter where he gives his Devon National tips and selection to land the valuable prize.
The feature race of the day at Exeter is the Devon National which goes to post at 4.20pm as the fifth race on a seven-race card. The extended 3m 6f contest is sure to prove an attritional contest in the heavy conditions where only the best will prevail and a field of 14 hardy runners will line up to face the starter’s tapes.
While there may not be a future Aintree champion amongst the ranks, there is a heady mix of seasoned chase campaigners and younger up-and-coming sorts so an exciting renewal is in prospect for the latest of the regional grand national contests which is one of the most valuable with a winners’ purse of almost £16,000 on offer.
Brian Healy takes a look at the big-race field for the Friday feature and gives his Devon National tips for success in the day’s main event.
DEVON NATIONAL TIPS
Has emerged from a spell in the doldrums to post much better efforts this time, taking advantage of a reduced mark to score at Haydock in November and the Winged Love gelding ran just as well in defeat next time when beaten nine lengths by the progressive Lord Du Mesnil in the Last Fling Chase back at Haydock when last seen.
Very much in the veteran stages of his career, he turns out here from the same mark as that last Haydock outing and can remain competitive in a slightly easier grade although he’s yet to go as far as this.
Has won this race for the past two years, taking the spoils from this mark twelve months ago with a six lengths’ defeat of Dancing Shadow.
Polly Gundry’s charge comes into this race on the back of some solid efforts, latterly finishing seven lengths’ fourth behind Townshend over an inadequate three miles at Ascot last month. He’ll be suited by the step back up in trip and he rates a big player here as he bids for a hat-trick of wins in the contest.
Lightly raced and signed off last term with a win at this venue over three miles, beating Snuff Box by a neck.
The Kadastrof gelding hasn’t been seen on a racetrack since and he has a 8lbs rise in the weights to contend with on his return to action. Not dismissed with the potential to improve again given his profile, but the suspicion is he may need this first run of the campaign.
Admirable veteran stayer who showed he was no back number when taking the 2018 Midlands National although he has been winless since.
Bob Buckler’s charge has posted some creditable efforts in defeat this term, finishing third to King’s Odyssey at Warwick in November and more recently was denied only by a short-head behind Jepeck at Sandown in a veterans’ contest.
However, he has to bounce back from a poor effort behind Yala Enki at Taunton when last seen, pulling up in the Portman Cup. He is capable of doing so however, but he’s not the most reliable nowadays and other boast stronger claims despite competing here from 6lbs below his last winning mark.
Still relatively low mileage and he has had only eight chase starts in his career which includes a pair of wins at Sedgefield and Plumpton respectively, the latter coming in the 2018 Sussex National.
The Vinnie Roe gelding scored his only win since those successes at Southwell over hurdles back in October that year and he rounded off that campaign with a good runner-up effort behind Commodore when returned to fences at Sandown in March.
He’s had two starts this term but he was a shade disappointing behind the reopposing Christmas In April when last seen. Now only 3lbs higher than his last winning mark he has the ability to get involved if at his best, but Harry Whittington’s charge likely needs more if he’s to come away with the top prize.
ICE COOL CHAMPS
A capable but inconsistent performer for Philip Hobbs who found a jolt of improvement following wind surgery and a switch to Kerry Lee when scoring at Wetherby in January.
The Robin Des Champs gelding sported a tongue-tie that day where he ran out a ten lengths’ victor over Virnon with a subsequent winner further behind. The handicapper has hit him with a 10lbs rise in ratings for that win which demands more; but he comes from a family of good stayers and he could progress.
Yet to race this far he has stamina to prove but he can be competitive nonetheless if seeing out the longer trip.
Lightly-raced sort over fences who took a forward step when winning by five lengths at Haydock back in December although he failed to back up that win when only fifth behind Copperhead next time at Newbury in the Mandarin Chase.
That form has been boosted and the Maresca Sorrento gelding could make his presence felt equipped with first-time blinkers and back up in trip. He unseated his rider mid-race in this contest twelve months ago and jumping does occasionally give some cause for concern.
But with the yard in excellent form at present he could have more to give if his jumping holds up over this longer trip and he might well improve for the test.
CHRISTMAS IN APRIL
Better over fences than hurdles and has won two of his last three starts over the larger obstacles, most notably when taking the Sussex National at Plumpton in December.
The cheekpieces he wore for his breakthrough chase win at Fontwell the time before that success has certainly sparked him into life, and he was subsequently far from disgraced when finishing three lengths’ third behind Over To Sam back at Plumpton next time although the run might just have come too soon.
He’s been given more of a breather and the return to a more extreme test of stamina might suit having perhaps found the drop in distance too sharp last time. However he probably needs a shade more here to collect the top prize although he’s not without claims in an open renewal.
Has been a grand servant for connections and collected his last win at Ascot in March last year in a veterans’ contest before running respectable races from out of the weights in both the Scottish Grand National and Bet365 Gold Cup.
The veteran Bonbon Rose gelding didn’t show a great deal in his first few starts this term, but he ran a much better race in the Sussex National when finishing third to Christmas In April and beaten only around three lengths.
His task now is back up that run, but he’s not been the most consistent and he’s 1lb higher than his last winning mark. He’ll have to be at his very best here to have a chance, but his profile in past seasons tempers enthusiasm that he’ll arrive on a going day and others boast stronger claims.
Lightly-raced chaser who got off the mark over fences with a defeat of Petite Power over this course and distance in December, scoring by a neck but finding plenty under pressure to win all-out with the front pair clear.
Emma Lavelle’s charge posted a very creditable fourth behind Christmas In April in the recent Sussex National, not seen to best effect following a mid-race blunder which put him on the back foot. However he was still in with a shout when being badly hampered later in the race so he did well to finish as close as he did.
He’s 1lb lower in the rating here and he is still unexposed over fences so could well have more to offer. Proven at this course and distance he also has winning form over hurdles on heavy ground, and he has struck up a good-looking partnership with 5lbs claimer Ben Jones whose allowance could prove crucial here.
Rounded off last campaign with a pair of wins at Hexham and Perth respectively, the latter coming in the Highlands National with a two lengths’ defeat of Misfits.
The Westerner gelding had shown some solid form prior to those successes, but he’s not shown the same level of form since returning from a break and he was beaten almost twenty lengths behind Christmas In April and a few of these rivals in the Sussex National.
Oliver Sherwood’s charge has a bit to prove now on the back of his lacklustre efforts to date and possible this mark anchors him. He’s hard to fancy on the back of his past few runs.
Won two of his first three starts over fences at Taunton and Newbury back in the 2017/18 season and chased home Takingrisks at Ayr on his next outing before falling in the Scottish Grand National.
That fall has possibly dented his confidence and he’s shown little since over the larger obstacles despite a lengthy absence, and his four runs this term have seen him fail to complete the course on three of those occasions.
Latterly fourth behind Django Django at Newbury where his jumping went to pieces and he makes limited appeal on the back of his current runs with stamina also to prove.
Capable but inconsistent, the Central Park gelding took a few goes to get off the mark over fences when successful here last March, beating Lithic before finishing fourth to the reopposing St Erney back here on his final run of the campaign.
Evan Williams’ charge was better for his reappearance when successful at Sedgefield in December, but he failed to back up that effort when last seen in the Sussex National where he pulled up having never got involved in the race.
He’s now 2lbs below the mark from which he finished runner-up to I Just Know in the 2018 North Yorkshire National; but he has to bounce back from that lesser effort last time and others are perhaps stronger stayers.
ONE OF US
Has been steadily progressive over fences, finishing runner-up to Potters Corner at Wincanton earlier in his chase career before winning over course and distance in the Devon Stayers’ Handicap last April on his final outing of the campaign.
Nick Williams’ Presenting gelding stepped up on his reappearance to narrowly land the Southern National with a battling neck success over Captain Cattistock, and he might just have needed the run over a shorter trip at Wincanton last month when beating only two home and finishing tailed off behind Worthy Farm.
The return to this much more extreme distance will help and he could bounce back although the suspicion is that his current mark is stiff enough on what he’s done so far and he probably needs to find some further improvement to land this prize.
DEVON NATIONAL TIPS + BIG-RACE VERDICT
Dawson City is hard to overlook in his bid for a hat-trick of wins in the race, but the key form might come from the recent Sussex National won by Christmas In April who also turns out here.
That one had a few of these behind him and Colin Tizzard’s runner will be suited by a return to further having been beaten next time out over a shorter trip.
But it might be worth chancing on Sussex National fourth-placed BELLE EMPRESS (6/1, 888Sport) who wasn’t seen to best effect having lost his place with a bad mid-race blunder. Emma Lavelle’s charge was back in the race and still pitching when badly hampered later in the race and to finish as close as he did was a solid run in the circumstances.
He had won over this course and distance the time before that effort and he can turn out here from the same mark where Ben Jones’ 5lbs claim is noteworthy. With a bit more luck in running he could go close here.
Ice Cool Champs hails from a family of good staying chasers and can also make his presence felt having bolted up last time on his first start for Kerry Lee although he has a 10lbs rise to contend with at the weights.