Polly Gundry is hopeful of a big run from the popular veteran Dawson City, who is bidding to win Friday’s feature, the Thank You NHS Devon National, for a third time.
Run over three miles and six and a half furlongs, the race offers one of the sternest tests of stamina in the racing calendar, and the 15-strong field is headed by last year’s winner, the Colin Tizzard-trained Christmas In April.
However, Gundry is full of optimism about the chances of her 12-year-old, who won this race in 2018 and 2019 and showed he still has plenty of determination when winning the similarly testing Somerset National at Wincanton last month.
She said: “We gave him a little break as we thought we had gone to the bottom of the well at Wincanton and we have just wound him back up for this.
“He did a nice piece of work the other day, while conditions should suit him. If it ends up being very tacky he will love it and fingers crossed it will be an inconvenience to the rest.
“It was great to see him run well at Wincanton and most importantly age doesn’t seem to be catching up with him. What Dawson City loves is three miles six around Exeter, that’s his thing and fingers crossed for everyone involved he can win it again.
“To get two wins out of a 12 year old in one season would be huge as there are not many horses that do that. We went to the bottom of the well last time but you can guarantee he will be trying his hardest again. It would be a huge achievement if he can win it for a third time.”
Another horse with previous in this race is Samuel Jackson, who was a staying-on fourth behind Dawson City as a novice back in 2019.
His trainer Richard Mitford-Slade explained that this race has been the plan for some time for the nine year old, who missed the entirety of last season through injury.
He said: “Because he missed last season, we’ve planned for this race all season. He had his two hurdle runs before Christmas because he had a lot of time off, which did him the world of good, and he came back to his old ability last time (at Exeter) over three miles.
“The track and the distance should suit him, so we’ll give it a good go. He acts on soft ground, but his turn of foot impressed even me on his last run. That was when he hit the better ground in front of the stands, so if it comes up a little bit drier in the home straight even better.”
Also in with a strong chance is the Paul Webber-trained Special Acceptance, who was second in the Sussex National at Plumpton in January – a race in which Christmas In April was successful in before winning this 12 months ago.
Webber reports his charge to be in good form after another good effort to finish second in a staying handicap at Doncaster at the end of last month.
He said: “It was a good run at Doncaster, and seems to manage the current testing ground, which very few of ours do, and I think he does stay.
“This is another little step up but there aren’t many other alternative races around, and we would be hopeful that he can go this way round. He has run well going right-handed in the past and I hope things will suit on Friday.
“He looked a better horse coming back in last autumn and hopefully he’s got a little bit left in him.”
There are plenty of intriguing contests elsewhere on the card and a strong supporter of Exeter is Jeremy Scott, who looks set to have six runners on Friday afternoon.
It is a move which Scott has explained is down to the drying conditions and his chances include Without A Doubt who runs in the opener, the Kenn Novices' Hurdle over an extended two and a quarter miles.
The six year old won a bumper while in the care of Philip Hobbs at Southwell back in December and Scott is hoping that his new recruit can make a positive start to his hurdling career.
He said: “We’ve been waiting for better ground and that’s why we’re running so many horses, as it’s looking like it’s going to dry up.
“Without A Doubt will be quite green I’d suspect, but we’ve got to start somewhere and it’s a nice racecourse to start at. We’ve not had him very long, so we’ve done plenty of schooling with him and he works perfectly well on the gallops. We’ll learn a lot more on Friday and it’ll be interesting to see how he runs.”
Scott is also looking forward to seeing how The Plimsoll Line fares in the closing race on the card, the Exeter On Haldon Hill Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
He added: “He ran a really nice race when finishing third here before Christmas, and we gave him too much to do. He’ll probably be ridden a bit more prominently this time, but we’re hoping for a big run from him.”