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Following a cracking week on the back of the Cheltenham Festival, Uttoxeter's Midlands Grand National keeps punters' National Hunt cravings going.

The mammoth stamina test is always an intriguing affair. Venita Williams saddles HOUBLON DES OBEAUX who has to carry top weight but looks well treated. Now a 10-year-old, Houblon Des Obeaux has plummeted to a mark of just 144, a stone less than when he raced in Grade One company at Aintree 12 months ago. The son of Panoramic will thrive on the soft going at the Staffordshire course and he's racing off two pounds less than his last win. Houblon Des Obeaux couldn't have been more impressive when he hacked up by 28 lengths in the Denman Chase at Newbury last term beating plenty of useful opposition. If Williams' charge can replicate that form, he has an outstanding chance and jockey Tom Bellamy's strike-rate over this sort of trip is 46% better than expected.

Topping BTO+ ratings going into the race is MYSTEREE. The son of Gold Well has plenty in his favour given he's running off a fair weight and has been in solid form this campaign. Michael Scudamore's nine-year-old has certainly proved himself in the conditions he'll face today and could still be on an upward curve. Mysteree landed himself in the winners' enclosure at Haydock last November where he beat CHASE THE SPUD by four-and-a-half-lengths on heavy going. The gelding was pulled up at Plumpton but then took one of the most prestigious staying races of the season last time out - the Eider Chase at Newcastle. Mysteree romped to a four-length win that day and the handicapper has raised him just six pounds, which is honest. Mysteree has five positives next to his name on BTO+ ratings, one of those being Scudamore's record over the course and distance, which is 33% better than expected.

Williams also runs EMPEROR'S CHOICE who could make his presence felt. The 10-year-old was fifth in the Eider last time out but has been dropped three pounds for that effort given he finished 16 lengths in behind Mysteree. Emperor's Choice surged to victory in the Welsh Grand National a few years ago and is also a former winner of a competitive race at Haydock where the gelding won off 135. Emperor's Choice's last effort showed signs of encouragement but more is still needed.

GOULANES won this affair in 2014 and could go close again. The son of Mr Combustible proved to be a talented horse when he was trained by David Pipe and the gelding won the Midlands Grand National by two-and-a-half-lengths. Bigger and better things were expected of Goulanes but he was sidelined with injury for the best part of two-and-a-half-years. He made his return for his new trainer Neil Mulholland in the Welsh National but the gelding was pulled up that day. Goulanes was a faller last time at Newbury in a veterans race but the gelding should be in decent shape having had two runs and his knowledge of the track could prove pivotal.

Champion jockey Richard Johnston takes the reins on MAD BRIAN, who hides away at the bottom of the weights. Although he's an 11-year-old, Mad Brian was amongst the winners last time at Navan where he won a handicap hurdle by 15 lengths. Connections may have put him over timber to protect his mark and the booking of Johnston is certainly a shrewd one.

GEVREY CHAMBERTIN has never lived up to his hype being a full brother to Grand Crus. Nonetheless, Pipe's runner was a gutsy second at Newbury earlier in the term but he did pull up in the Eider last time and has more to find.

Article Posted on Saturday 18th March 2017 @ 11.15

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