The Saturday Focus – Becher Chase

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

William Hill Becher Handicap Chase (Grade Three) (1:30 Aintree, Saturday 5th December)

Racing returns to the Grand National fences for two races this Saturday. My focus lies on the Becher Chase. The race is named after Martin Becher, who is one of the founders of the Grand National but is most famous for getting unseated from his horse Conrad and sheltering in one of the brooks, waiting for their soaring rivals to come past. He is immortalised in the name of the first ditch on the National course (‘Becher’s Brook’) and in this race’s title. Horses tackle twenty-one unique and challenging fences over the three mile one furlong trip. This race is always one of the highlights of this time of the year for me. We could be seeing a few of the fourteen runners contest the Grand National in April.

Since its inauguration, in 1992, two horses who have done the double between this race and the Grand National – but never in the same season. Amberleigh House won this in 2001 and won the greatest steeplechase of them all in 2004. Remarkably, Amberleigh House raced around the Grand National course on eleven occasions and he never fell. Silver Birch was the winner of this in 2004 and, in 2007, under top jockey Robbie Power for Irish maestro Gordon Elliott, he was victorious in the Grand National by three quarters of a length.

In recent years, the horse who has gone closest to winning both races is Walk In The Mill. He was a four and a half lengths winner of this in 2018 and followed it up with a fourth place finish in the 2019 Grand National, sixteen lengths behind Tiger Roll. Later in the year, he won the Becher Chase for the second time, equalling Hello Bud’s record, by two and a half lengths. In 2020, Walk In The Mill has thirteen rivals, with the absence of Give Me A Copper, between him and his third win in the race. You can never discount this horse over these obstacles. He goes on soft ground but may prefer it on the good side of soft – it isn’t something to worry about particularly though. He is off a mark of 149, 8lbs more than his win in this last year after a second placed finish over hurdles and seventh in competitive company over a trip too short. He only has 11st2 to carry, which isn’t a treacherous burden.

Four of the other runners followed in Walk In The Mill last year – Kimberlite Candy, Le Breuil, Vieux Lion Rouge and Minellacelebration. Only two and a half lengths split Walk In The Mill and Kimberlite Candy. There, the dual winner was carrying 10st8 and Kimberlite Candy had 10st4 on his back. This year, the positions are reversed with Kimberlite Candy on 11st6 and Walk In The Mill on 11st2. From this, Walk In The Mill looks to have the beating of Kimberlite Candy but I really like this horse. He has shot up the handicap because, next time out, he was a brilliant winner of the Classic Chase over three miles five, 329 days ago. He has form on testing ground and he often runs well off a break. It was a shame that the Grand National was cancelled (obviously the reasoning was completely fair) because I said straight after the race that he would win the big race. Bold claims but I definitely think so. I am really looking forward to seeing him back in action. I’m sure the Grand National will be the target this year.

Le Breuil at home. (JTW Equine Images)

Le Breuil is a horse that connections are desperate to run in the Grand National because he would be very well-suited. He won the National Hunt Chase in 2019 over just short of four miles and he had a clear round over these obstacles twelve months ago, coming seventh. Since the Cheltenham Festival in, he has been well-beaten, which has done bad things for his handicap mark. He likes soft ground but is sort of hovering in the gap of never having a mark good enough to go in the races he’d run well in. As of 11th February 2020, the first stage entries for the Grand National, bottom weight (number 40) was off a mark of 151. (Admittedly, the race did contain Delta Work, Tiger Roll, Bristol De Mai and Native River, who were 169+ rated.) Le Breuil had no chance of getting in if the race had gone ahead and even Ramses De Teillee, Kimberlite Candy and Walk In The Mill were out of the top forty in the early stage. Connections are really going to want Le Breuil to win this to boost his mark which is currently 141. That aids him in this though as he only carried 10st8. Kielan Woods, my jockey to follow for the season, takes the ride.

Joe Farrell (left) (JTW Equine Images)

Vieux Lion Rouge finished ninth in this last year; second, four and a half lengths behind Walk In The Mill, in 2018; seventh in 2017 and he won off 142 by a short head in 2016, remarkably. He is 2lbs lower than that gutsy win in this renewal. He won his first start last season over three miles under Connor O’Farrell off 142, but, since then he has been well-beaten. This horse is a seasoned professional over National fences and O’Farrell will have a great spin round. He came fifth last time behind Minellacelebration, with Joe Farrell fourth. That was the second leg of Minellacelebration’s recent double. The first start was a neck victory in July in a listed race at Uttoxeter. Next time, in October, he on by fourteen lengths. He led before the last and won convincingly. He has won ten of his thirty-four starts and thoroughly stays the trip. So does Joe Farrell. In April 2018, he won the Scottish Grand National on good ground off a mark of 135. When he pulled up behind Minellacelebration, he never travelled and lost his left fore shoe. He hasn’t won since Ayr.

If the 2020 Grand National had taken place and their individual training had gone well, Aso, Jett and Yala Enki were all, assured a run. Jett comes over from the Jessica Harrington yard and he is her only runner on the card. This horse won a grade three in October last year but has been well-beaten since, albeit in very good company. He hadn’t previously shown a liking for this trip before that success as his wins had come over two miles four furlongs or less. He is a very interesting runner and he is Sam Waley-Cohen’s only ride on the card. He has a sensational record over these fences. Aso had a crashing fall in the Virtual Grand National (which was brutal by the race’s creators) but thankfully he lives to fight another day. [Our own Lois Davis can’t fancy him after that though! Check out her tweet below] He is yet to experience the Grand National fences in real life and I hope the computer predictions don’t tell the story of this race! He is such a classy horse and was once even second in a Ryanair. On his seasonal reappearance, he was beaten just over fifteen lengths, off top weight, in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and he does occasionally need his reappearance. Venetia Williams’ horses are running very well at the minute.  

Ramses De Teillee (JTW Equine Images)

Yala Enki and Ramses De Teillee had a thrilling, ding-dong battle up the Cheltenham Hill last time out. Ramses De Teillee, off 11st5, was the winner by a short head to Yala Enki, who carried 11st12. That was over three miles three furlongs. Last season, this horse was campaigned with the Grand National completely in mind. They utilised the fact that he was still a novice for him to win two good grade twos. He then finished thirteenth in the Albert Bartlett. He has only ever pulled up over these fences, which was in the 2019 Grand National. However, that is quite deceptive as he had a clear round but his rein broke after the last and the jockey pulled up. Overall, he is a good jumper and I would be surprised if he didn’t finish. Yala Enki carries top weight with 5lbs splitting him and the aforementioned horse. He won over three miles four at Taunton in January after coming third in the Welsh National. After the win, he was twenty lengths behind Smooth Stepper giving him 1st7lbs. It will be Yala Enki’s first experience of National fences and, with top weight, this could be a tough ask for him.

Smooth Stepper will carry 10st9 and runs for the in-form Alex Hales yard, who could have success in the following race with the lovely Hiconic. Smooth Stepper won the Haydock Grand National Trial by one and a half lengths over three miles four on heavy ground. He was put up 11lbs and finished fifth, only beaten ten lengths, at Sandown in November. I feel like he would be better suited to a longer trip but his stamina will be handy and he is very interesting over these fences at the age of eleven.

The beautiful Calett Mad (JTW Equine Images)

Callipso Collonges has his first run for 350 days. His last win was over two  miles four in December 2018 and, when last seen, he was beaten thirteen lengths by Lord Du Mesnil over this trip on heavy ground. He has a tiny weight of 10st to carry with the talented Danny McMenamin on board, claiming 3lbs. Calett Mad hasn’t been seen for 693 days. Now eight, the last race he ran in was the Classic Chase in 2019 and he ran a blinder for second. His last win was a listed hurdle over three miles by thirty-one lengths. He stays extremely well. This could be tough for him off such a long absence but he is extremely exciting horse for the future. Coo Star Sivola was a good fifth on his reappearance a few weeks ago, after 610 days off. He won the Ultima in 2018 and, since then, he has dropped 5lbs. I look forward to seeing him over National fences.

Overall, the most important thing is that all horses and jockeys come home safe and sound from both races over the National fences – and all of the races round Britain and Ireland this weekend. For this race, I am going to side with KIMBERLITE CANDY – his brilliant Classic Chase win has been stuck in my mind all through lockdown and I can’t wait to see him back on a racetrack. Richie McLernon is riding brilliantly lately. I hope Walk In The Mill runs well because it would be amazing to see him make history. I’m sure Dido Harding, his owner, would love for him to win and end the year on a good note after the ‘Track and Trace’ catastrophe. At a bigger price, Aso and Smooth Stepper are interesting.

Ramses De Teillee (JTW Equine Images)

Your Thoughts

At this point, I like to showcase what my Twitter followers think because, after all, it is game of opinions and there are plenty in this.

As always, head over to my Twitter if you want to join in the conversation. Enjoy the racing and best of luck!!

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