McGrath is the nine-year-old’s regular rider, but the pair are 9lb higher in the weights after beating the reopposing Vintage Clouds in the Ultima Handicap Chase last month.
Pulled up in the race 12 months ago, McGrath is confident Nicky Henderson’s charge is a different proposition this time around.
“He was entitled to go up a good chunk for winning at Cheltenham, but I don’t think the trip will be a problem,” said McGrath.
“We did have him entered in the Topham last week, but decided two-mile five would be way too sharp for him and we’d head to Scotland instead.
“I think the trip will help him, especially because of the drying ground. That would be the one worry I’d have actually, I wouldn’t want it drying out too much – ideally he’d love good to soft ground.
“Even though he’s nine, he didn’t come to Seven Barrows until he was about six so he was still a big baby learning his job – hopefully he’s reaching his peak. We have a good relationship and he’s been a very good horse for me.”
One horse guaranteed to stay the distance is Caroline Bailey’s Crosspark, successful in the four-mile Eider Chase at Newcastle in January.
Saved for this since, Bailey is expecting another good show.
“He seems to be in as good form as I can have him. We gave him plenty of time to get over Newcastle and have brought him back with this intention,” said Bailey.
“Not many have proved they stay four miles, but he has, so with luck in running, hopefully he’ll go well.”
Crosshue Boy was a winner at this meeting 12 months ago when beating Alan King’s Dingo Dollar, one of the favourites for the Ayr marathon.
While his trainer Sean Doyle only has two horses in his care he has been planning his return trip to Scotland for some time.
“He won at the meeting last year and this looks a wide-open Scottish National. He’s going there with every chance,” said Doyle. “The ground is key to him – he’s a much better horse on better ground so we’ve been planning around this since Christmas.
“I’m not worried about the trip, last year he proved he stayed pretty well.”
Dingo Dollar finished third in the Ladbrokes Trophy earlier in the season and second in the Grimthorpe Chase last time out.
He is another for whom this race has always been the target.
King said: “This has been Dingo Dollar’s target since he ran such an excellent race to finish third in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in early December.
“That day he produced a solid front-running performance, jumping superbly and understandably finishing the race looking tired as we could have done without the rain that made the ground as testing as he could handle. Since then we have very much had to plan the road to Ayr around the weather forecast, but I was really pleased with his comeback second at Doncaster last month, and that race has put him spot on for this with the ground seemingly coming in our favour this time.”
Dingo Dollar was beaten by Chidswell in the Grimthorpe Chase, but Nicky Richards’ 10-year-old is one of the outsiders on this occasion with a 7lb rise to overcome.
“I was doubtful whether he’d stay three-and-a-quarter at Doncaster so that will be the issue once more, but unless you try you don’t know,” said Richards. “He certainly wasn’t stopping last time, he galloped right through the line and the horse he beat is favourite. He’ll love the ground and if he gets into a rhythm he’ll run a nice race.”
Richards also runs Takingrisks, winner of a veterans’ race at Carlisle last time out.
“The old boy is in grand fettle and it’s similar with him – if he gets into a rhythm early on he’ll run well,” said Richards. “He goes on any ground, he’s won on heavy, but good won’t stop him.”
Hopes for the home team rest with Lucinda Russell’s Big River, fourth in the Cheltenham race won by Beware The Bear, and Sandy Thomson’s lightly-raced Geronimo ridden by Rachael McDonald.