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The Becher Chase is the first race of the season to be run over the famous Grand National fences at Aintree racecourse. £150,000 in prize money is up for grabs at 1.30 on Saturday, when 25 horses will line up for the early-season National trial. It’s a good field for the race, and many of these horses will go on to compete in the big one next spring. It’s a shorter trip – the race is run over three and a quarter miles – but the ground is described as ‘soft, good-to-soft in places’ and will ensure that it is a real test of stamina.
Get the Best Bets
In a race with so many runners over these fences, it pays to get the best terms on offer, and several bookies are offering a quarter of the odds for the first five places on each-way bets. It’s always a sickener when your horse finishes just outside the places, so take advantage of the five places being offered by Skybet, Bet365, Totesport, Betfred, Paddy Power, Betfair, and Winner.
Skybet are also running an offer where they will refund stakes up to £25 on winning bets if your horse finishes 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th. This applies to single win bets, and also means that on each-way bets you will be paid out on the place part of the bet, and refunded the winning part.
The Runners and Riders
The 25-strong field is headed in the betting by last year’s winner of the race, Chance du Roy. The Phillip Hobbs trained 10-year old stands every chance of repeating last year’s battling victory where he held out by half a length or so up the gruelling run-in at the end of the course. This will be his seasonal reappearance, which would usually be a negative, but it was also his first run of last season when he won, so he clearly goes well fresh. His jumping over these fences was exemplary last year, and he has only failed to complete once in five visits to the track. He ran a great race in last year’s Grand national to finish sixth, where his stamina was stretched to breaking point, and this shorter trip may well suit him better. The yard is in good form and jockey, Tom O’Brien, is confident he’ll run a big race. With so much in his favour, we wouldn’t put anyone off backing the market leader.
Top trainer, Paul Nicholls, has saddled three of the last 10 winners, so his two runners may also be worth a look – Mon Parrain and Just a Par. The latter of the two, Just a Par, may have the better chance as he is less exposed in handicap company; but he has had just the six runs in chases, and with most of the previous winners of the race having had much more experience, that can be viewed as a slight negative. (although it’s worth pointing out that Nicholl’s three winners had a similar profile, so not all hope is lost).
There are three Irish raiders in the race, and the one who looks to have the best chance of upsetting the home crowd is Balbriggan. Trainer Gordon Elliott has won the Grand National before so should have a good idea of what’s required over these fences, and Balbriggan comes here off the back of a fine win in the Troytown Chase at Navan last month. He likes to make-all, or at least be up with the pace, and that’s a positive in this race. On the flip side, he was raised 10lb for that win in the Troytown, and that will do his chances here no favours.
Balbriggan – 11/1 12.00 +1100 11.00 11.00 -0.09 with 888Sport
One that could be particularly well-handicapped is David Pipe’s horse, Our Father. The horse has been entered in several staying chases this year, but has not been seen on the racecourse for 245 days. However, he is a horse who goes well fresh and is comfortable on soft and heavy ground. It looks like he is set to line up for this one, and it will be interesting to see if it has been worth preserving his handicap mark until the ‘right opportunity’. There will be big races to be won with Our Father this season – even if it’s not this one.
One horse with the proven credentials over these fences is Mr Moonshine. Sue Smith’s charge plugged on gamely to take third in the race last year, and although he has a big weight to carry, jockey Daragh Bourke’s 5lb allowance goes some way to negating that. He should run a big race and is entitled to be there or thereabouts again at a decent price.
The one that really catches the eye is Highland Lodge, and with experienced jockey Andrew Thornton on board, he has every chance of running a big race. He likes to race prominently which can be a huge advantage in this type of race as it helps to stay out of trouble in the pack. He made an excellent attempt to make all the running in last year’s Hennessey Gold Cup, and runs here off 4lb lower. His rating of 132 is just right as most previous winners have been rated in the 130’s, and a weight of 10-11 is not too much of a burden to bear. He ran a good race to finish 5th in this year’s Hennessey on his seasonal bow, and should strip that little bit fitter here. He’s a good jumper and at the odds, should give us a good run for our money, particularly with the each-way offers in mind. This type of race always requires a slice of luck in running, but a good jumper who likes to be at the head of affairs can go well.
Becher Chase, Aintree Racecourse, 1.30pm Saturday 6th December.