First run in 1992 the Becher Chase is contested over 3ml 2f of the Grand National course and competitors are faced with the challenge of clearing 21 of the famous fences. It serves as a trial for the main event in April with two Becher winners, Silver Birch and Amberleigh House going on to victory in the National. In recent years with a pot of around £150,000, it is a serious contest in its own rite and is always contested by a fiercely competitive field. It has not been a race for young inexperienced animals with only two 7yo’s, Indian Tonic (1993) trained by Nigel Twiston Davies, and Silver Birch (2004) trained by Paul Nicholls winning in its 21 year history. Age and experience is further emphasised when looking at the four most recent winners, two 9yo’s a 12yo, and a14yo.
Nigel Twiston-Davies ( most successful trainer in the contest, 5 wins ) saddles the lightly raced 9yo Ben Bens. He ran quite a promising race at Cheltenham three weeks ago where, racing off Saturday’s Mark of 134 he was a good second to Charingworth, to whom he was Conceeding 9lbs. With a nice racing weight of 10st 13lbs he does seem reasonably handicapped and with these connections is well worth considering.
Paul Nicholls, the second most successful ,( 3 winners since 2004 ) is represented by Just A Par and Mon Parrain at the time of writing, and the former would seem the more likely runner. He has been dissappointing since winning a gd 2 chase at Newbury (nov 2013) but has been keeping some pretty hot company. It would’nt be the biggest surprise to see the Nicholls Magic touch bringing about a revival.
Irish horses have won two of the last ten runnings ( both trained by the late lamented Dessie Hughes ) and are represented this year by Balbriggan and Goonyella . Balbriggan, now in the care of the Irish maestro Gordon Elliott made all when winning the valuable Troytown chase at stamina sapping Navan two weeks ago. Having trained a Grand National winner, ( Silver Birch ) his very talented trainer knows what is required and it is not hard to envisage Balbriggan with only 10st 9lbs on his back setting out to make all. Gonnyella has won two of his nine chases and ran well in last years Irish National finishing seventh. He seems particularly effective on heavy ground and looks the type who might enjoy the Aintree fences.
With the stable in such devastating form last years winner Chace Du Roy must be considered. He loves Aintree having finished 2nd in the Topham and 6th in the National. He is only 6lbs higher than last year and as he won first time up last year he must have a serious chance of a repeat on what are likely to be similar ground conditions.
Having won his first three chases Lucinda Russell’s young chaser Green Flag was Stepped up in class at Kempton last December and ran a very promising race finishing second to the very useful Annacotty. He then ran well at the Cheltenham festival where despite appearing to have no chance at the third last he stayed on to be a respectable fourth behind the much vaunted Hollywell. Put away after his 6th in the Scottish National ( did’nt appear to stay ) he made a promising return 7 months later at Carlisle finishing 4th to subsequent Hennessy winner Many Clouds. His mark of 142 on Saturday seems well within his compass and is one for the short list.
David Pipe’s Our Father only got to the canal turn on his first attempt at the Nationl but may have been unlucky to unseat. He is a horse who is undoubtedly at his best first time out and on some of his earlier form he looks very well handicapped off a mark of 136. If he does indeed handle the fences he must have a serious chance of giving his trainer his first success in the race.
Richard Lee’s 9yo Knock a Hand looked promising on his reappearance at Bangor three weeks ago. He probably needed the race when just losing second place on the line in a cl2 chase and racing off the same mark on Saturday could go well.
Emma Lavelle’s Highland Lodge is racing off 132, 7lbs below his hurdles rating, and this would look very generous indeed if repeating his run in last years Hennessy where he finished 4th off a mark of 143. Things have not worked out since but he put up a respectable performance on his reappearance when 5th in a cl2 chase at Chepstow in October and is another to consider in such an open looking contest.
Across the Bay was going great guns out in front in the National until carried wide by a loose horse at the 16th. He is racing here off a mark 4lbs lower and would be worth considering except for the poor form of the Mc Cain stable.
E.W. Highland Lodge.