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Becher Chase preview

There's only one rehearsal for the Grand National, and it's the Becher Chase over the very same fences, albeit it several months out. In true National style, it's 10/1 the field on Betfair at the moment and the historical trends tell us sweet FA. Making his bow on the blog with the preview is Darren Gartland, @dazgartland.

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2:05 Aintree
Betfred Becher Chase


For my money there’s no greater sight in National Hunt racing than watching a high class chaser attacking Aintree’s National fences with gusto, enthusiasm and a will to win.

Although it’s not the big race itself The Becher Chase has always been a great race in its own right and often provides us with some important clues towards the main event in April.

This year’s renewal looks as competitive as ever with a field of 24 going to post. Here I preview the leading protagonists in the hope of pointing you towards the winner….

On His Own (7/1)
Heads the market and has to be afforded a degree of respect having made the journey over from the powerful Willie Mullins yard. He went off 2nd favourite for last year’s National but came to grief at Valentine’s second time round and also fell in Neptune Collonges’ National back in 2012. He won’t lack for fitness having had a pipe opener over hurdles back in October, but his two non-completions over these fences temper enthusiasm. His current price is probably more reflective of connections rather than his actual form chance and he looks worth opposing.

Across The Bay (12/1)
Not hard to see why there was money for this one midweek given his record at Aintree (four runs/three places) allied with Donald McCain’s ability to get one ready for these fences. Like On His Own he also ran in last year’s National and acquitted himself well, up with leaders before stamina gave way after a mistake four out. The best of his form has been on soft and heavy ground so the forecast rain will only aide his chances and if he can get into a decent rhythm at the head of the field, he’ll be difficult to keep out of the frame.

Join Together (12/1)
Paul Nicholls’ 8yo was a fast-finishing second in this race last year and gets to race off a 2lb lower mark today. For that reason he has to be of interest, although it has to be a concern that his two runs this season (one of those a grade one in France) have been lackluster. Connections have called on first time blinkers to bring about an improvement in form but they’ll have to do just that if he’s to prevail. With no win since December 2011 there looks to be little juice in his current price and he’s not for me.

Wyck Hill (12/1)
Looked a useful tool on a couple of occasions last season and was particularly impressive at Ascot in December, beating the progressive Katenko by four lengths. That win prompted JP McManus to open his wallet and purchase him before he was sent off a warm order for the Racing Post trophy at Kempton. He disappointed there, beating only two rival’s home and ended his season with a trip to the Punchestown Festival, finishing a respectable third in a fairly competitive handicap chase. His reappearance run at Ascot didn’t offer too much hope on the face of it, but he may of just needed that and the form looks strong with the third, Triolo D’Alene going on to win the Hennessy next time out. It could be that he just isn’t a spring horse (all wins before Christmas), which could explain the poor run at Kempton? He’s only 5lbs higher than the impressive Ascot win and if he takes to the fences it isn’t hard to see him going well.

Vesper Bell (12/1)
Probably needs heavy ground to be seen at his very best but is none the less an intriguing runner given his unexposed profile. He finished a head behind Goonyella at Punchestown back in April which is probably a decent piece of form given that Goonyella is now ante post favourite for the Welsh National with many bookmakers. This will be only his sixth start over fences which could count against him over this test but there’s no doubting he’s an interesting runner and you get the feeling that Willie Mullins wouldn’t be sending him over if he wasn’t confident he’d take to them.

Bostons Angel (14/1)
Having his first start for David Pipe and has the ‘back class’ element having been a previous winner of the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival back in 2011. Things haven’t been plain sailing since then, with only a couple of respectable efforts in various cross country events and connections will be hoping the switch to Pipe sparks a revival. If it does he’s a serious player off a mark of 142 but there are too many question marks against him for now and you just get the feeling this is a ‘sighter’ with a view to the big one in April.

Walkon (14/1)
Always looked to have a touch of class about him and advertised his liking for these fences with a solid second behind Triolo D’Alene in last season’s Topham Chase. He started his season at Aintree with a run in the Old Roan Chase where he unseated four out after being sent off the 7/2 favourite. My major worry with him is the trip as he’s yet to win beyond 2 ½ miles and this will take some getting if the forecast rain does arrive. He’s got no secrets from the handicap off a perch of 151 and despite the decent course form he looks opposable on balance.

Planet Of Sound (14/1)
Philip Hobbs’ 11 year old is undoubtedly well handicapped racing off 144 having previously been rated in the mid 160s. That said, the bare facts are that he hasn’t won since April 2010 and this looks a stiff enough task on his seasonal return. The yard continues in good form which is an obvious plus but I’ve never been convinced with Richard Johnson over these fences and I can’t see him troubling the judge here, despite that appealing mark.

Swing Bill (16/1)
This one is of major interest and ticks plenty of boxes for me. He has plenty of experience over these fences and ran a solid race in this contest last year finishing fourth behind Hello Bud beaten two lengths. He gets to race off a 2lb lower mark today and has a great record when returning to the track after a break. He finished sixth in last year’s National where he failed to stay the marathon trip and looks to have been laid out for this by David Pipe. At 16/1 he looks a great each way bet, especially if you can get on with the firms paying five places.

Benny’s Mist (16/1)
Venetia Williams is no stranger to aiming one at these fences but her 7 year old looks to have a stiff task on here. He was pulled up in the Topham last season and disappointed on his season return at Stratford back in October. He’s young enough to show further improvement at some stage of his career but the balance of his form suggests he’s better in small fields (all wins in races with 8 or less runners) and he could struggle in this competitive line up.

Best Of The Rest Chance Du Roy attracted a bit of support midweek and has to be of some interest based on course form alone. The highlight was his second behind Always Waining in the 2012 Topham and from a handicapping point of view he looks well treated off 135. He could go well at a price. Big Fella Thanks was third in this last season and should come on for his reappearance run at Ascot last month. Although 6lbs higher than last year his experience of the fences will be an asset and with the yard in decent form he can run well. Baby Run is an interesting runner reappearing after a near 1000 day layoff. It’ll be some training performance if he were to win and although that feat probably looks beyond him it’ll be no surprise to see the old boy run a decent race hailing from last year’s winning yard. Storm Survivor and Ikorodu Road are others with bits and pieces of form which would give them a chance.

Conclusion

Such is the competitive nature of the race there’s every chance I haven’t even mentioned the eventual winner but Swing Bill looks a great each-way bet and he’ll be carrying my money at around 16/1. Vesper Bell is an intriguing runner from the Mullins yard and if the forecast rain arrives he looks set to run well. He’s much more appealing at the prices than stable mate On His Own and I’ll be laying that one for a place. Across The Bay and Wyck Hill can also run into the places.

1) Swing Bill
2) Vesper Bell
3) Across The Bay
4) Wyck Hill

On His Own – Place Lay

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