Becher Chase Preview
Grade 3 Handicap, 3m 2f, Saturday 05th December, 1.40 pm
Saturday sees the ever popular Becher Chase contested at Aintree. Run over the Grand National fences, it is over a distance of 3 miles and 2 furlongs and usually the race throws up some good pointers for the big race next year.
Here I’ll preview some of the main contenders.
Heading the market at 7/1, at time of writing is the progressive Irish stayer, Goonyella. He looked good last season when winning the Midlands National at Uttoxeter and then nearly following up, just touched off in the Scottish National. He disappointed on his reappearance this season when sent off favourite, but that was over hurdles and was more than likely a pipe opener before targets like the Becher. He has a progressive profile and could still be improving, so he could well cope carrying second top weight. But one word of caution though, when he lined up for this race last year, he didn’t make it past the 1st fence.
Joining Goonyella at the top of the market is Saint Are. Runner up in last year’s Grand National and 3rd in last year’s Becher Chase, you know Saint Are should be fine over the national fences and the distance. He started out this season over the Cross Country Chase course at Cheltenham, where you could say he finished a disappointing 6th. Back over regulation fences and with his excellent course form, he will be on a lot of people’s shortlist. My only concern is that if he could not win the race last year carrying 10’6, how is he going to win it carrying 11’2. I just feel there me one or two better handicapped.
Another horse vying for favouritism is Algernon Pazham. The least exposed horse in the field, the six year old is possibly the most interesting runner. He finished his novice chase season by finishing a respectable 7th in the Bet 365 Gold Cup. His first start this season he started 11/4 favourite for a class 2 handicap at Bangor, which indicated that trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies thought they had an improving well handicapped horse. He ran accordingly and was just touched by a neck, with the first two horses 10 lengths clear of the rest of the field. Put up 7lbs, he still carries a nice weight of 10’10 for the Becher. Although it remains to be seen how he will cope over the national fences and against some seasoned chasers, from a trainer that has won this race five times, I would be hopeful of a big run.
Paul Nicholls is another trainer who has won this race multiple times. He saddles the top weight horse Unioniste. Although not the biggest horse, he has always struck as a gutsy performer and there is no doubt regarding his class. He was only beaten 10 lengths by subsequent Gold Cup winner Coneygree in last year’s Denman Chase, and he was giving the winner 5lbs. He then fell in the National and finished mid division in the Gold Cup. Although he certainly has the ability to win a race of this nature, I have reservations over whether he has the size and scope to concede weight all around.
Thunder and Roses is another Irish raider toward the head of the market. The late Dessie Hughes won the Becher Chase back to back in 2008 and 2009. His daughter Sandra took over his training licence last year and given the family’s history in the race, her horse has to be respected. The winner of last year’s Irish Grand National, he should relish the conditions. But having fallen or unseated in 3 of his last 10 races, there has to be questions how he will cope with the jumping test of the Aintree fences.
In a race where it is 7/1 the field, it is hard to rule out any horse. Vics Canvas relishes big fields, when encountering fields of 17 or more, he has finished in the first four on 10 out of 14 races. Dolatulo won last season’s Rowland Meyrick and then his handicap mark was protected before the national, suggesting the yard thought he was well handicapped, but although he completed, he was beaten out of sight. Soll always seems to run his race at Aintree, without ever looking like winning. I think the handicapper needs to relent a bit before he wins again. Although this is only his fifth run for David Pipe, so he may well eke out more improvement. Pineau De Re won the Grand National in 2014. Like a lot of horses, he struggled since and thus has dropped down the weights slightly. He showed some of his old spark when finishing 2nd in a veterans chase last month, so a good run here would not surprise me at all.
Ardkilly Witness makes just his second start for Jamie Snowden, so although a change of yard could yet have an effect, all his wins have come in small fields and his yard is struggling for winners. He will do well to get involved. One yard that is in form is the Sue Smith yard. She saddles 8 year old No Planning. The horse has been running like there may be more to come from him and with a trainer that knows what type of horses act around Aintree, he could go well. Buachaill Alain has been a consistent runner for the Peter Bowen yard. Although possibly lacking the class of some of the higher weighted runners, he does seem like an out and out stayer, always plugging on when others have cried off. If this turns into a real war of attrition, he may run into a place. Dare to Endeavour seems to have gone into decline since he moved to Ireland and it would be a huge leap of faith to see him competitive here. Portrait King is a horse flopped on his first run for a new yard. He did run in the Grand National and was prominent until 3 out when he weakened and fell, so a return to Aintree over a shorter distance might see him outrun his odds. He also finished second in a Grand National Trial over in Ireland last year.
The last three all run from outside the handicap. Cowards Close makes his first start for Chris Gordon since leaving top trainer Paul Nicholls. It is rare for a horse to leave that yard and improve significantly for a new trainer. However the horse is lightly raced and it will be interesting to see how he gets on. Highland Lodge is another who makes a debut for a new yard having joined James Moffat. 4 of his last 5 runs he has gone off 9/4 or less, suggesting he has been going well at home. He is also down to mark a stone below his last winning one. If somehow he found his novice chase form, he couldn’t completely be ruled out of scraping into a place. However it’s a leap of faith to see that happening. Financial Climate is a solid jumper and sometimes flatters to deceive in his races, a lot of the time looks like he may be in contention, just to weaken when push comes to shove. I doubt he will have the class or stamina to make an impression here.
Back Algernon Pazham to win at 8/1 with bet365
Back Portrait King e/w at 25/1 with BetVictor