Becher Chase history shows how Aintree course knowledge is key

Saturday gives racing fans the first chance of the season to see those famous Aintree fences, with the Becher Chase providing a stern challenge on Merseyside.

The uniqueness of the spruce-topped obstacles cannot be ignored, with some horses taking to the Grand National course well, while others flounder.

That has never been clearer than in recent renewals of next weekend’s contest.

None of the last five winners of this race were having their first start over the idiosyncratic fences, while 14 of the 20 placed horses in that period had already had a spin round the track in their career.

We’ve seen plenty of Aintree specialists take this race in the past with Oscar Rock, twice placed in the Grand National, taking the race last year, while Hello Bud has won two renewals of the contest.

Both Amberleigh House and Silver Birch were successful in the race before going on to take the big one the following April in what has proven to be a very solid trial.

So then, with 27 runners remaining in the line-up, where do we turn to this time round?

Of the horses left in, 12 have previous experience of the fences including last year’s Grand National winner Pineau De Re and Midlands National winner Gooneyella, but we’ve picked out a quintet that could offer a bit more value.

Saint Are – 10/1

Tom George’s horse is clearly one that thrives in Liverpool, finishing second in the Grand National in April after going down fighting in third in this race last year.

He returned to action in the cross country chase at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting just over a fortnight ago, and managed a very respectable sixth.

That would certainly have been a mere pipe-opener and with a record that shows that only once has he got to within 25 lengths of a winner on a seasonal reappearance there’s every reason to believe that was not him at his very best.

Saint Are found only Many Clouds too good at Aintree in April

Saint Are found only Many Clouds too good at Aintree in April

First Lieutenant – 14/1

Last season was a bit of a right off for Mouse Morris’ charge, with an 11 length sixth in the Lexus Chase the best of a bad bunch of performances.

His trainer struggled too with just 13 winners in 2014-15, but with 11 successes to his name already this term, he looks well on the up, as does his representative here.

Having fallen to a three-year low chase mark, the run that the 10-year-old put in to finish third in the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday was eye-opening. If he is none the worse for those exertions, he could be dangerous.

Excellent third in the Hennessy was a step back in the right direction

Excellent third in the Hennessy was a step back in the right direction

Harry the Viking – 20/1

The 10-year-old’s only experience over these fences might not have been the best when he was pulled up in the 2013 Grand National, but the best part of that race he jumps round well.

Since leaving Paul Nicholls’ yard in October last year he has put in some smart performances for Sandy Thomson, including second place finishes in the Grand National Trial at Haydock and a competitive veterans chase at Kelso.

He’s now rated 129, the same handicap mark he obliged on when he last got his head in front four years ago, and if delivering a similar performance to those last season, could outrun his odds.

Harry the Viking (r) ran some smart races last term

Harry the Viking (r) ran some smart races last term

Highland Lodge – 33/1

Another horse that has fallen a long way down the handicap, James Moffatt’s charge is now on a handicap mark 14lbs lower than when triumphing in a novice chase at Cheltenham in 2012.

A fourth place in a Hennessy Gold Cup and a second in the Badger Ales Trophy show that ability hasn’t completely disappeared, while a respectable eighth place in this race last term proves a liking for the course.

He was last seen finishing second to an improver at Sedgefield, and could go well off a feather weight if getting into the contest.

Highland Lodge was previously with Emma Lavelle

Highland Lodge was previously with Emma Lavelle

Portrait King – 33/1

Patrick Griffin’s grey was running an excellent race in the Grand National in April when taking a tumble at the third-last fence to put paid to his efforts.

Staying chases look to be his game though, despite that fall, with a win in the Eider Chase at Newcastle as well as winning a renowned Grand National trial at Punchestown to his name.

The soft underfoot conditions will be to his liking, and with a run at Bangor likely to have blown away any cobwebs this month, he could go well at a big price for the Irish handler.

Denis O'Regan is one of 13 jockeys to partner Portrait King in a 26 race career

Denis O’Regan is one of 13 jockeys to partner Portrait King in a 26 race career

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

Fancy a flutter? Sign up today to claim up to £50 in free bets.


Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.