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Becher Chase preview

Running late with this one, entirely my fault. It's the Becher Chase preview from Adam Webb, @adamwebb121...

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Becher Chase
1330 Aintree, Grade 3 Handicap

The Grand National fences return for their one appearance outside of the April meeting with the Becher Chase and the Grand Sefton taking centre stage away from Sandown’s Tingle Creek. Since its inception in 1992, the Becher has thrown up a variety of winners and provided a stepping stone towards the Grand National, with the likes of Amberleigh House and Silver Birch who both won this before winning the main event whilst Earth Summit won this race after his National success.

This year now has the record of the biggest field assembled in its history with twenty five due to go to post and it looks one of the most open renewals with a whole host of horses holding strong claims. Last year’s winner Chance Du Roy heads the market for Philip Hobbs and Tom O’Brien. He probably ran the race of his life in the Grand National where he made a bad mistake early on and was given an excellent patient ride by O’Brien. They were right there at the third last before stamina limitations kicked in and finished sixth behind Pineau De Re.

Interestingly, he was dropped two pounds for that effort and his record around here is fairly strong. If he is in the same form as last year then he will definitely have a say in the finish. Course form is considered a huge positive and the third from last year Mr Moonshine returns again. Sue Smith has finally hit form and her consistent performer ran a fine race when not staying in the Grand National. He ran well enough in the Old Roan and a return to his favourite course should see another bold bid. Daragh Bourke taking five pounds off is no harm to his chances.

Also placing in this race last year was the likeable Ballybough Gorta who was fourth. The Cartmel specialist jumped these fences nicely and whilst this looks a stronger contest, he certainly shouldn’t be underestimated from a trainer who likes to target this race in Peter Bowen.

The Irish challenge is headed by Balbriggan and Goonyella. The former was given a fantastic ride last time out when making all the running in the Troytown at Navan. Gordon Elliott’s grey has improved significantly of late and his prominent style will stand him in good stead around here but the concern would be if this run comes too quickly after his last win.

Goonyella agonisingly missed out on a chance to run in the Grand National by one. He ran well enough in the Irish National on better ground when seventh to Shutthefrontdoor and his return over hurdles was a fair effort when just denied by Plinth. He will strip fitter and this is a sighter before returning here in April however the distance here could be on the sharp side having looked to be a thorough stayer. Any rain that falls would be welcome.

Mendip Express and Just A Par are both fascinating contenders here. The former could be a handicap snip still off his mark and showed he was in good heart when returning with an easy win at Warwick where his hurdling was excellent. The only real concern is that he likes to clout a fence on the way round and whilst Aintree’s challenge is somewhat easier, these fences still need plenty of respect.

The latter won a Graded novice chase at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting and the sky looked the limit however a disappointing effort in the Feltham derailed his season. His RSA performance was a solid effort over a trip probably sharp enough for him on Cheltenham’s Old Course and he has looked tailor made for this course. The return last time out was a solid effort despite a bad mistake just after halfway in the Badger Ales behind Court By Surprise. He is another that looks a proper stayer and will appreciate extreme distances in the future but should be fine tomorrow with the long run in at Aintree.

Paul Nicholls’ second string Mon Parrain looked to have the world at his feet when putting in one of the finest rounds of jumping Aintree has seen in recent years in the 2011 Topham, before stopping at the Elbow to allow Always Waining his second win in the race. Since then, his career has been a stop start affair but he finally put it all together when given one of the rides of last season ride by Nick Scholfield at Cheltenham’s April meeting to just get up and beat Forgotten Gold. He would have needed his return at the Showcase Meeting and if he sees out the trip then he has a chance but like Our Father, he isn’t one to trust.

GREEN FLAG is a horse that I have liked for this particular race for a while. He was a progressive novice last season for Lucinda Russell and ran some great races in defeat including when second in the Feltham to Annacotty and has solid handicap form when fourth to Holywell in the Baylis & Harding at the Cheltenham Festival.

He travelled really well through the Scottish National before not seeing out the trip and opened up his season with a nice pipe opener when fourth to subsequent Hennessy winner Many Clouds over an inadequate trip. On the whole, he’s an efficient jumper and the step back up in distance will be a plus.

Saint Are has been well backed throughout the week and returned to something like his best last time out at Cheltenham for new trainer Tom George when third behind Sam Winner. The better ground here will suit and he looks potentially well treated on his old form. Fourth in that same race was Master Neo and he was well backed that day but faded away after looking a danger going to the third last however this is his stiffest task to date and he could struggle here.

Our Father has a tendency of going really well fresh and is down on a tempting mark. He jumped these fences well in the Grand National before unseating Denis O’Regan at the Canal Turn and if taking to this again, he could easily be in the shake-up but he is not one worth trusting. David Pipe also runs The Package who is two pounds lower than his Festival third behind Holywell when ahead of Green Flag. He was another to travel sweetly in the National before failing to stay. The one slight negative is how well he runs fresh but deserves respect.

Al Co and Burton Port both deserve a mention together as both are here to see whether they handle the track, especially the latter who unseated early in this year’s Grand National. The former won the Scottish National and was severely outpaced over hurdles last time out at Haydock. As mentioned above, he is surely here for a sighter and a safe round is the ideal result for connections.

Highland Lodge is one of several that like to get on with things and is sure to be pressing the pace early on. This has been his early season target and his record at this time of the year is strong including when fourth in last year’s Hennessy behind Triolo D’Alene. If he can get into a rhythm around here, then he will be dangerous and off an eleven pound lower mark, he could be leniently treated. McCain is a name synonymous with Aintree and Donald McCain fields two in Across The Bay and Kruzhlinin. The former was hugely unlucky in the National when carried out by the mercurial Tidal Bay at the Water Jump but looks to need some help from the handicapper whilst the latter surprised in the same race when staying on and is the preferred choice of Jason Maguire yet is a bigger price. He will need to jump better but could look overpriced having seen out the trip well.

Knock A Hand should be an exciting ride for Michaal Nolan and is another that could potentially be ridden handy to make use of his bold jumping. The only slight worry is the distance and it could be that the Grand Sefton would have suited him better. Benbens represents Nigel Twiston-Davies who has a fine record in the Becher having won the race five times and Ryan Hatch who is more than capable of mixing it in big races takes a handy five pounds off. The worry is that he can take a liberty with some of fences so he needs a foot perfect round to be in the shake-up.

The Waley-Cohens have a fantastic record around these fences and OSCAR TIME could potentially be overlooked. Although he is in the veteran stage of his career at thirteen, age is no barrier in this race. The likes of Kildimo, Into The Red and more recently Hello Bud all won this at the age of twelve, with the last named returning two years ago at the grand old age of fourteen to raise the roof one last time. The horse has the experience over these fences having finished placed in two Grand Nationals and was travelling well last time out when unseating Sam Waley-Cohen. He still remains in fine form with himself, even winning a hunter chase over two and a half miles showing he still possesses pace. At 25/1, he is definitely worth an each way bet.

Renard ran a nice race at Haydock two weeks ago when staying on behind According To Trev and any rain would be welcome for his chances. Shakalakaboomboom would prefer better ground and was disappointing in the National this year but has had a wind operation since. The jury is currently out with him. Alfie Spinner has been consistent in staying handicap chases and this sort of challenge could be right up his street but he hasn’t won for nearly three years and Lion Na Bearnai had his excuses in the National but didn’t show too much on his return in the Troytown.

Conclusion
In what is possibly the most competitive renewal of the Becher Chase ever staged at Aintree and with so many to make a case for, it is worth respecting the course form of several including Chance Du Roy and Mr Moonshine but GREEN FLAG looks an ideal candidate having the handicap form in the book when fourth at the Cheltenham Festival and warmed up for this in a competitive intermediate chase behind the Hennessy winner Many Clouds. He’s a sound jumper and back up in distance should go close. Just A Par is one I can see definitely making the frame whilst OSCAR TIME is overpriced with his excellent record around here.

1. Green Flag
2. Oscar Time
3. Just A Par
4. Chance Du Roy

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