Time for Midnight to make his mark

Midnight Prayer has this season had a National nightmare, but all that can change at Ayr.

Midnight Prayer, ridden by Richard Johnson, jumps the last to win at Exeter. Picture: Harry Trump/Getty Images
Midnight Prayer, ridden by Richard Johnson, jumps the last to win at Exeter. Picture: Harry Trump/Getty Images

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, only to miss the cut.

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But with fate finally on his side, he has to be shortlisted for the Coral Scottish Grand National.

Things have not gone so smoothly since winning the four-miler at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival – he has raced on only 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.

Be that as it may, he was hardly disgraced in finishing seventh behind 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 been seen on only ten occasions over fences and competes at Ayr off a low weight.

King, a loyal Scot, won the race in 2013 with Godsmejudge and there is every chance this has yet again been a long-held target – even if his inmate has had to zig-zag a 
little to get to Ayr.

Meanwhile, at Ayr yesterday Definitly Red got his career over fences back on track with a tenacious victory in the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase.

A winner on his chasing debut at Catterick on New Year’s Day, Brian Ellison’s charge chased home a couple of subsequent Cheltenham Festival heroes on his next couple of starts in Black Hercules at Warwick and Blaklion at Wetherby.

Definitly Red came to grief during his Festival assignment, the National Hunt Chase, but the Grade Two-winning hurdler showed no ill effects in Scotland as he knuckled down admirably under Danny Cook. Tracking early pacesetter Fago for much of the extended two-and-a-half-mile event, the 7-4 favourite jumped to the front at the top of the home straight before holding the persistent challenge of Orbasa at bay by a length.

Ellison said: “I think it rode like a good race. He jumped well and it has been at the back of my mind for a while that he hadn’t been staying. I said to Phil [Martin, owner] it is worth going back to two-and-a-half as he ain’t slow and he jumps brilliant.”

Welsh Shadow made the most of a significant drop in class to move trainer Dan Skelton a step closer to saddling his first century of winners 
in Britain. Having finished 
fifth behind Yorkhill in the 
Neptune at last month’s 
Cheltenham Festival, the six-year-old faced nothing of that calibre in the West Sound 
Novices’ Hurdle.

In a race which did not begin to unravel until the second last, it was the 4-7 market leader who showed the best turn of foot to win by a length and a quarter from Jetstream Jack, moving Skelton to the the 98-winner mark in Britain this term.

l Today’s meeting at Newbury was called off yesterday due to a waterlogged course.