King hoping Midnight Prayer can deliver Scottish National prize
Published 16/04/2016 | 02:30
Midnight Prayer looks ready to end a roller-coaster season with glory in the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
Trainer Alan King had hoped to run the 11-year-old stayer in the Welsh Grand National, but a bout of coughing put paid to that dream.
The Barbury Castle handler then had grand plans of saddling Midnight Prayer in the big one at Aintree last Saturday, only to miss the cut. But with fate finally on his side, he has to be shortlisted.
Things have not gone so smoothly since winning the four-miler at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival - he has only raced on five more occasions - but his second place in a heavy-ground Classic Chase at Warwick in January was reassuring.
His subsequent success at Exeter was less convincing, though, when left in front by the fall of Golden Chieftain, while he was also well beaten in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham. Mind you, he was hardly disgraced in finishing seventh behind Gordon Elliott's Cause Of Causes - particularly as three miles and two furlongs on good ground was always going to be too sharp for a horse that is not especially quick.
With this very much in mind, a return to a marathon distance and easier ground should boost his chances immeasurably.
Despite his advancing years, Midnight Prayer has only been seen on 10 occasions over fences and competes at Ayr off a lovely weight.
King, a loyal Scot with a good season behind him, won the race in 2013 with Godsmejudge and there's every chance this has yet again been a long-held target.
Meanwhile, 'king of the Nationals' Mouse Morris is keeping faith with Andrew Ring, who is aboard his hope Folsom Blue, whom the claimer guided to a respectable fourth-placed finish behind Ger Fox and his Rogue Angel at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday. Unlike the other two National winners, he will be wearing a white cap rather than the now lucky blue one.
"We'll take any cap," Morris said yesterday after what he described as "a bit of a rollercoaster" of a week. "He stays all day and jumps well. Andrew knows him and you'd say he goes there with an each-way chance."
Of Rule The World, Morris added: "He's so well we might run him at Punchestown, as it would be his last chance as a novice. We'll see."
Larne trainer Stuart Crawford travels with high hopes, though he would like plenty of cut for his Irish Gold Cup third Fine Rightly, which has won his last two races.
"Hopefully they ground stays on the soft side as the horse is in great form," said Crawford. "After what he's done this season he's probably nearer to being a Graded horse than a handicapper, but he deserves a crack at a race like this and I think he's on a mark he can be competitive off.
"I've had a good few runners at Ayr, but I've never had a horse as good as him to run in the Scottish National.
"He's had a very good season and as long as the ground is right I think he could run a big race."
The Dr Richard Newland-trained 2014 Grand National winner, Pineau De Re, and the twice fourth-placed Alvarado - trained by Limerick native Fergal O'Brien - run here after failing to make the cut for Aintree, as does the aforementioned Cause Of Causes, which is lumbered with top weight of 11st 12lbs.
Patrick Mullins expects the Ayr fixture to be "pivotal" as the race to be crowned British champion trainer enters its final throes.
His father Willie currently holds a significant lead as he bids to become the first Irish-based trainer to claim the British title since the legendary Vincent O'Brien did so twice in the 1950s.
However, nine-times champion Paul Nicholls will not give up his crown without a fight and both trainers have major contenders in the showpiece event.
With a total prize fund of £210,000 up for grabs in the feature event, and in excess of £100,000 on offer in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, it promises to be a fascinating day in Scotland, with the final day of the season at Sandown just a week away.
Patrick, assistant to his father, said: "It's going to be a pivotal day. If one of us wins the big race (Scottish Grand National), that could swing it.
"I think Dad is going over. I'm staying at home this weekend, but hopefully I might be at Sandown next week. Saturday is going to be interesting."