The Cheltenham Festival is over for another year but the Midlands National at Uttoxeter takes centre stage this afternoon with the ground described as soft – good to soft in paces – on Friday morning but with no further rain forecast ahead of the track’s feature meeting of the year.

Philip Hobbs has had a quiet week in the Cotswolds with his stable star Thyme Hill a late defection from the Stayers’ Hurdle. Those who did run failed to trouble the judge, but I have long thought St Barts (2.25) would make up into a decent staying chaser and he is taken to defy 11st 12lbs in the 3m handicap chase.

The selection made all at Newbury from an 8lbs lower mark back in December and he is former champion jockey Richard Johnson’s only mount of the day in Staffordshire. Shanty Alley is the obvious danger, but he is possibly better going right-handed, and St Barts would be a confident selection were it not for the moderate form of the Hobbs yard. The 10/3 with William Hill has long gone and the chaser is 9/4 with Boylesports at the time of posting.

My two against the field in the big one are Coo Star Sivola and The Two Amigos (3.35) with the each way vote going to Nicky Martin’s 9-year-old who deserves to get his head back in front after a series of excellent efforts so far this term. His second in the Welsh National to the progressive Secret Reprieve is top class form and the drying ground is no concern for Nicky Martin’s stable star who is 16/1 with 10bet 5 places.   

Coo Star Sivola – 16s with MansionBet – is better going left-handed but does have to prove his stamina for this marathon 4m 2f trip but he is 7lb lower in the weights than when winning at the Cheltenham Festival back in 2018.

Time To Get Up was very impressive at Wincanton last time and was favourite for the Kim Muir before bypassing that Cheltenham option in order to wait for the Midlands National. He has been very well backed in recent days and could be a blot on the handicap although he does have to prove his stamina for this marathon trip.

At Kempton I think the step back up to 2m 4f on good ground will suit Didtheyleaveuoutto (2.40) and he gets the nod for Nick Gifford in the handicap hurdle for horses balloted out of the handicap hurdles at this week’s festival. The ew selection – 5s with BetVictor – has never fulfilled his initial Bumper promise, but he has been in decent form on polytrack of late in Jumpers Bumpers and on the flat. He looks well treated reverting to timber.

I think today’s better ground will suit Big Difference (4.25) who can make all and defy top weight in the 3m handicap chase for Ben Pauling with Nico De Boinville taking over in the saddle for the first time in nearly three years. The selection – 7/2 with BetVictor – ran a cracker on ground softer than ideal at Musselburgh last time although he does represent a stable that have not exactly been firing in the winners of late.

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