Run over the spectacular Grand National fences, the Becher Handicap Chase takes centre stage on Saturday night live on Sky Racing 1 and The Last Samuri can build on his great run in this year’s National.
With the last six winners of the Becher having had previous experience of these unique fences, course form is once again likely to prove a key factor. While no Becher winner since Silver Birch in 2004 has gone on to win the National itself, these fences provide a test that can come as a shock to horses on their first try so it’s no surprise that they tend to improve significantly for a run over them.
Jockey Brian Hughes has been in brilliant form over the last two weeks with 11 winners from 45 rides and looks to have picked up a great mount at Aintree where he will partner The Last Samuri for the first time. The Kim Bailey-trained eight-year-old looks to have an outstanding chance and proved his liking for these tough obstacles when an excellent runner-up to Rule The World in this year’s National, which was only his ninth start over fences. After switching stables his progression last season was superb and improved 22lbs on official ratings and currently stands with a record of five wins from just ten starts over the larger obstacles. He comes here fit from a run in the Grade 1 Champion Chase at Down Royal and is reportedly in great form at home.
The Tom George-trained Saint Are also has an eye-catching record over these fences having finished second in the 2015 Grand National and was third in this race two years ago. He will be fitter for his two runs this season and showed big improvement from his seasonal reappearance when third at Sandown last month.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has a superb race record having won five previous renewals, most recently with dual winner Hello Bud in 2010 and 2012, and is set to be represented by Cogry and Double Ross. The latter has encountered these fences on three previous occasions and while he was unfortunate to suffer a slipping saddle when pulled up in this year’s National he has twice previously completed them with fifth placed efforts in the 2014 Topham Chase and last year’s Grand Sefton. He’s a battle-hardened 10-year-old who ran a blinder when just worn down late by Native River and Carole’s Destrier in last weekend’s Hennessy Gold Cup and looks sure to run another gutsy race.
Last year’s winner Highland Lodge had finished eighth in 2014 and will make his seasonal reappearance in Saturday’s feature while the Gordon Elliott-trained Ucello Conti looks sure to be a popular choice with punters. The former French-trained horse has only had five runs since switching to Elliott and was sixth in this year’s National. He had little chance in a Grade 2 Hurdle at Navan on his first run back but the race will have him spot on for this switch back to fences and a stiffer test of stamina.
Twice placed in the National, Fergal O’Brien’s Alvarado has been lightly-raced in recent seasons so there should still be plenty of life in the 11-year-old’s legs and he too will be spot on after a fine sixth in a Grade 3 Handicap Chase at Cheltenham last month. In contrast there are a number of much younger chasers who hold leading hopes, however it’s worth noting no seven-year-old has won this since Silver Birch’s success in 2004. They include The Young Master, Viconte Du Noyer and Vieux Lion Rouge but while this is a typically wide-open renewal I’ll stick with the experience of The Last Samuri who could be set for more improvement again this campaign.