There's a decent turnout of nine for the feature race at Sedgefield this afternoon, the Durham National run over a gruelling 3m5f (due off 4.10pm).
Stamina aplenty is required to win it and one horse who we know stays every yard is the Dr Richard Newland-trained Royale Knight, the winner of the last two renewals. He's clearly been trained with a hat-trick bid in mind and a recent spin over hurdles will have blown any cobwebs away. That said, he's got no easy task under top weight - he's 5lb higher in the ratings than 12 months ago - and might struggle to concede 21lb to JAC THE LEGEND.
One of two Brian Ellison representatives, he was a consistent (albeit frustrating) sort last season, finishing second five times no less over fences after winning a handicap hurdle at this track on his reappearance in October. He gave the distinct impression on more than one occasion that he needed a stamina-sapping test like this one to be seen to full advantage and another summer at grass will have done him the power of good, allowing him to strengthen up further.
His trainer, who has been in cracking form of late with three winners from just six runners in the last week alone, gave him a favourable mention in a recent Stable Tour and, indeed, mentioned this race as an early season target. That suggests he will have him ready to roll after a 215-day absence and the booking of Brian Hughes also suggests that connections mean business. While effective on a soft surface, he's shown he can handle today's good ground.
He is preferred to stablemate Five In A Row, who doesn't look as well handicapped and has the Scottish National as his long-term target. A bigger danger then may come from Charlie Longsdon's Ready Token, who is chasing a hat-trick after back-to-back wins at Warwick. He made virtually all on each occasion and similar tactics may be deployed here by his rider Richard Johnson, but he's now on a career-high mark in a better class race and may well set things up nicely for the staying-on selection.
It could be a memorable day for Ellison as the ex-Irish VOLVALIEN, his representative in the novices' limited handicap chase (due off 3.00pm), looks to have solid claims after a promising second on his British debut. The seven-year-old is owned by the trainer and the stable sponsors this race, so they will be extra keen to win it.
Sedgefield 3.00, Volvalien @ 3/1 bet365