The Tom George-trained top-weight took this race in 2010 when in the care of Paul Nicholls – but that signalled a drought which only ended on his latest start at Wincanton.
“It had been a while since he’d last won, it was this race when he was with Paul Nicholls, so it was nice to win with him again,” said George.
“He’d had a few hiccups along the way, but he looked a fresh and happy horse at Wincanton and he’s done well since.
“This race comes at just the right time to set him up for Aintree — it fits in nicely.
“He’s got a big weight but the ground drying up a bit will help and he’s won the race before so he has a bit in his favour.”
Midnight Sail is another horse fresh from a recent triumph, with Alan King’s charge scoring in a Kempton handicap just a week ago.
“Midnight Sail is every trainer’s dream in that he is so consistent,” said King.
“He is so reliable and finished second four times off the spin before getting bogged down in the heavy ground at Plumpton.
“However, he was back on song at Kempton last week, where the key was the improved going.
“He travelled well the whole way round and quickened up nicely, and, though he is now 7lb higher, he deserves his shot at this decent prize.”
Saved By John also comes into this on the back of a Wincanton victory and his trainer Tim Vaughan believes the eight-year-old can run a decent race from near the foot of the handicap.
“He’s in really good form and I thought it was a very pleasing performance on his last run at Wincanton,” said the Vale of Glamorgan handler.
“We’re going back up in trip with him, but I wouldn’t be overly concerned about that with the way the ground is drying out.
“He’s a horse that is progressing the right way and he’s definitely a better chaser than he was a hurdler.
“He has a handy racing weight in what is a competitive race and I’m hoping he’ll run very well.”
Mr Gardner takes his chance as trainer Polly Gundry feels the 10-year-old will not make the cut for the Byrne Group Plate at Cheltenham.
The gelding only had his first run for Gundry in the race won by Big Fella Thanks at Wincanton in January after being sidelined since the 2011 Festival when trained by Nicky Henderson.
“He seems in really good form and as it was looking a bit dodgy he’d get in at Cheltenham, we thought we’d let him take his chance this weekend,” said Devon-based Gundry.
“I was happy enough with his first run back. We knew the soft ground wasn’t going to suit him but I’d given up the ghost waiting for better ground and we needed to get the run into him.
“He came out of the race well, I’ve been pleased with him since and I think he’s fairly well there (near full fitness) now.
“I think he’s on a really good mark and he still has masses of enthusiasm for the job.
“You wouldn’t want him to be any more enthusiastic than he is, to be honest — he’s a bit of an old fool!
“I’m never confident, that’s not in my nature and I’m a bit of a pessimist, but he is really well, so we’ll see what happens.”
Paul Nicholls has won the race five times since it was introduced in 2004 and the champion trainer has another strong hand with Pacha Du Polder and The Knoxs.
“The Knoxs won well at Ayr at the end of last season and probably would have won at Newbury on his first run back,” said Nicholls.
“We haven’t run him since as like a lot of the horses he wants good ground, but he’s in good form.
“Pacha Du Polder would have a chance if he can come back to the form he showed on the better ground at Ayr last year.
“He’ll definitely appreciate the better ground, but he has to put a few disappointing runs behind him.
“If he can, I don’t think there’s a lot in it (between the two of them).”