Early December brings Aintree’s first major meeting of the National Hunt season with their Becher Chase Raceday.
A mix of hurdle and chase races will be run over Aintree’s Mildmay course, including the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase, named in honour of the 2015 Grand National winner.
The raceday’s two big handicaps, the Becher Chase and the Grand Sefton Chase, are contested over the famous Grand National course and fences.
Becher Chase Day: Saturday
|11:45||William Hill Extra Place Races Daily Novices' Hurdle||Class 3||2m1f|
|12:20||Follow @willhillracing On Twitter Handicap Chase||Class 3||2m4f|
|12:55||William Hill Play Responsibly Handicap Hurdle||Class 2||2m4f|
|1:30||William Hill Becher Handicap Chase||Grade 3||3m2f|
|2:05||williamhill.com Fillies’ Juvenile Hurdle||Listed||2m1f|
|2:40||William Hill Many Clouds Chase||Grade 2||3m1f|
|3:15||William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase||Class 2||2m5f|
The Becher Chase is just one of a number of high profile races on Saturday’s card at Aintree, one of the first big meetings where fans will be allowed back inside the course. Racing fans, at Aintree or watching on from home, have everything from stamina-sapping chases to juvenile hurdles to enjoy and attempt to profit from. As well as some high level competition, the horses will have to cope with cold conditions and soft ground, although we might actually see a little sun on the day. We are in for a cracking day of National Hunt racing and this is where our cash will be going.
11:45 William Hill Extra Place Races Daily Novices' Hurdle
Aintree, Class 3, 2m1f
There is a fair amount of raw talent around among the six runners set to compete in the novices’ hurdle which kicks off Becher Chase Day. Raw talent is not enough to make it towards the upper echelons of the hurdling division though and so far few of those in this field have shown the required jumping ability.
Connections of Mackenberg believe that they could have a very good horse on their hands. He has plenty of work still to do though. The five-year-old’s jumping let him down last time and it could be the same story at Aintree with Straw Fan Jack poised to take advantage. Sheila Lewis’ five-year-old made a costly mistake of his own last time out but it was the way he battled back to nearly make amends that suggests he could dig in to earn at least a place.
Straw Fan Jack to win
12:20 Follow @willhillracing On Twitter Handicap Chase
Aintree, Class 3, 2m4f
When it comes to this sort of competitive handicap chase, punters are always on the lookout for an improver who is well treated by the handicapper. Nestor Park fits the bill very nicely indeed when it comes to this 2m4f contest and he is the one for us here.
Ben Pauling’s seven-year-old had no form whatsoever to excite his connections going into a similar race last time out. He only ran twice last season and finished just once in his four previous starts. It was, therefore, heartening to see how well he dug in to claim second place. The handicapper has only penalised Nestor Park 2lb for that run which suggests that he can claim his first win since January 2019 at decent looking odds of 13/2.
Nestor Park to win at 13/2
12:55 William Hill Play Responsibly Handicap Hurdle
Aintree, Class 2, 2m4f
There is little doubt that Ballymoy is the class option in the field for the William Hill Play Responsibly Handicap Hurdle. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ seven-year-old will return to Cheltenham in March if everything goes to plan but class is just one part of the story in handicaps and Ballymoy will have to carry top weight against some dangerous opponents on Saturday. That’s why he is as big as 12/1, a price that surely warrants each way support.
The bookies make Glinger Flame and Mint Condition the biggest danger to Ballymoy. Both horses head into the race on the back of a win and will carry 10lb and 17lb less than the top weight respectively. Captain Tom Cat is even better off at the weights with just 10st 8lb to carry and has conditional jockey Cillin Leonard claiming 7lb booked for the ride as well. Dr Richard Newland’s five-year-old was kept busy over the summer and providing the surface remains sound enough at Aintree, he could be a big player at 9/2.
Ballymoy each way at 12/1
1:30 William Hill Becher Handicap Chase
Aintree, Grade 3, 3m2f
The Becher Chase is one of only a few races that take place on the Grand National Course over the season. It is one of the most famous and feared tests of jumping in National Hunt racing and the received wisdom is that a certain amount of experience is required to have any chance in a race like the Becher Chase. Connections of Yala Enki are hoping that the 10-year-old will be able to blow that notion out of the water with a big run on his National Course debut.
Yala Enki is another horse who will have to do it the hard way given he carries the top weight of 11st 12lb for this gruelling 3m2f trip. That is not something the trends suggest will be easy and he also has some very good horses to beat, most notably the first and second from last year’s renewal, Walk In The Mill and Kimberlite Candy. Those two are both running off a higher mark this time around though and may find it hard to launch a challenge late on.
Of course, the same is potentially true of Yala Enki given his own handicap mark. Whilst he has the stamina and jumping ability required to make a serious challenge at 9/1, punters would perhaps be wise to support Paul Nicholls’ 10-year-old each way.
Yala Enki each way at 9/1
2:05 williamhill.com Best Odds Guaranteed Fillies’ Juvenile Hurdle
Aintree, Listed, 2m1f
Will we see any stars of the future in this juvenile hurdle for three-year-old fillies? Connections of Megan are certainly hopeful that they have a very smart horse on their hands. She had a fair amount of success when running as a flat horse in Germany before her switch to Stuart Edmunds’ yard and a start to life over as a hurdler.
Her hurdling debut came at Leicester just a couple of weeks ago. It was clear that she was travelling well throughout and she cleared the hurdles smoothly but nobody quite expected her to have such a powerful finishing kick. Sometimes a finishing kick can look more impressive than it is as competitors tail off and there was definitely an element of the others getting caught out by the soft ground at Leicester. All that said, by the same token, Megan’s ability to be so strong in testing conditions will only stand her in good stead here. She steps up in trip and class at Aintree but is the worthy favourite at general odds of 13/8.
Megan to win at 13/8
2:40 William Hill Many Clouds Chase
Aintree, Grade 2, 3m1f
The Cheltenham Gold Cup trials come thick and fast at this time of year and we have another one to analyse on Saturday in the shape of the Many Clouds Chase. The top three in the betting for this Grade 2 prize - Santini, Native River and Frodon - are all being targeted for the Gold Cup in March and they each have a chance to lay a marker down at Aintree.
The hugely popular Frodon, ridden by the even more popular Bryony Frost, is the only one of the three to arrive at Aintree with a previous run this season under his belt. His fantastic win under a huge weight on soft ground at Cheltenham saw his price for the Gold Cup cut to 16/1 in places. It would take an even better performance from Native River to see his Gold Cup price cut considerably from the 50/1 available but of the three there is no doubt that Santini is the most likely winner both at Cheltenham in March and at Aintree on Saturday.
Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old went from a horse full of promise to one of the very best chasers around last season. Everybody at the Henderson yard is hopeful that there is even more to come from Santini and the bookies’ favourite can kick his season off with a win at 11/8, a price that looks slightly generous to us.
Santini to win at 11/8
3:15 William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase
Aintree, Class 2, 2m5f
The Grand Sefton Chase is an excellent way to finish the day’s racing at Aintree on Saturday. This year’s renewal of this handicap is as competitive as ever as evidenced by the prices on the likes of Dingo Dollar (14/1), Might Bite (16/1) and Didero Vallis (20/1).
Those are the three horses who really make a lot of appeal from an each way betting perspective. The latter, Didero Vallis, perhaps represents the best value from towards the bottom of the weights but consistency is always the concern for Venetia Williams’ seven-year-old.
Didero Vallis is certainly a serious contender but should he fail to fire the one to support is Springtown Lake at 10/1. Philip Hobbs’ eight-year-old loves scrapping it out on soft ground and he made a very pleasing return to action last month at Aintree. Despite some good runs, his handicap mark remains unmoved from 142 which he achieved courtesy of a career best run at Warwick in February. This could be the time for him to land another big win and odds of 10/1 can be taken each way or on the nose as you prefer.
Didero Vallis each way at 20/1
A Complete History of the Becher Chase
Established in 1992, the Becher Chase is actually rather new compared to many other of Britain’s most prestigious handicap events. In its relatively short history though, it has produced some absolutely thrilling contests over the Grand National fences. As you may be aware, one of these famous fences is the notorious Becher’s Brook.
Not satisfied with just having a fence to pay tribute to Martin Becher, Aintree now has a race named after him too. The reason the Merseyside course remains so fond of the jockey is down to a wholly unfortunate ride during the first ever Grand National. At the first major obstacle, his horse, Conrad, dug his heels in resulting in Becher flying of the saddle and into the filthy brook. To avoid injury, Becher waited in the water until all the horses had cleared the obstacle before remounting his nag-soaking wet. If that was not bad enough, a luckless Becher later fell off the mount at another brook further down the course.
1992 – Aintree rolls out new fixture
For the 20 years prior to 1992, the Grand National meeting stood as Aintree’s sole racing fixture. This situation finally changed when organisers penned in a fresh meeting, scheduled for November 1992. The highlight race of the new and relatively low-key fixture was the Becher Chase, initially a long distance 3m 3f handicap featuring 22 fences.
1996 – Into The Red double
The Becher Chase did not have to wait long for its first two-time winner. Just four years after its inception, Into The Red scooped a second win in the race having initially triumphed in 1994. Buoyed by this second win, John White gave his horse a crack in the Grand National five months later where he mustered a respectable fifth.
1998 – Earth Summit’s final victory
Earth Summit was very much a big name by the time he lined-up for the 1998 renewal of the Becher Chase. Earlier in the year, he had made history by becoming the first (and at the time of writing only) horse to win the Aintree Grand National as well as the Scottish and Welsh equivalents. He showed off his long-distance class yet again by winning this contest by an impressive 16 lengths.
It all went rather downhill for the gelding soon after this point though. A solid second followed Haydock but in the five races after this, he looked a completely different horse, never remotely close to a win.
2001 – Amberleigh House shines on Aintree return
Amberleigh House’s first trip to Aintree was one to forget. The utterly unfancied 150/1 chance was brought down just eight fences into the 2001 Grand National, dashing any hopes of a shocking outcome. His return later in the year proved far more productive though as he claimed a 33/1 Becher Chase win. This would not be his only taste of Aintree success either as he went on to claim glory in the 2004 Grand National.
2004 – Silver Birch makes a name for himself
Many racing fans will recognise the name Silver Birch. The Paul Nicholls-trained horse won the Welsh National in 2004 and the Aintree Grand National three years later. The Becher Chase however marked his first major victory and it was a narrow one too with the then seven year old winning by just a length.
Silver Birch is the last Becher Chase champion that has later gone on to win the Grand National. This is despite the Becher serving as an early and well-recognised trial race for the hugely popular showpiece contest. Black Apalachi has since come the closest but the 2008 Becher winner had to settle for the runners-up spot in the 2010 National.
2005 – A year for the dark horses
Anyone who called this renewal of the Becher Chase ended up handsomely rewarded. Not only was first past the line, Garvivonnian, a 33/1 shot but two 25/1 outsiders occupied second and third place. It was an exceptionally poor day for horses at the top of the betting with the three favourites all failing to finish the race.
2006 – Distance tweaked
In 2006, the Becher Chase was reduced in length by around a furlong, moving from 3m 3f to 3m 1f 188y. The reduction in length also meant there was one fewer Grand National fence to jump for the horses involved.
2012 – Hello Bud makes it two
Two years after his initial success in this race, Hello Bud won the Becher Chase for a second time on what was his last ever competitive outing. At the ripe old age of 14, it is extremely unlikely that we will see an older horse triumph in this race for quite some time.
2013 – Becher handed Graded status
It was in 2013 that the Becher Chase was upgraded from a Listed contest to a Grade 3 race. Chance Du Roy claimed victory the first time the race feature with its upgraded classification. The bump in class also meant a bump in prize money with Chance Du Roy pocketing his connections £15,000 more than the previous winner.
2014 – Amateurs take control
A total of 25 jockeys mounted up to face this edition of the Becher Chase. Of them, 23 were professionals and just two were still amateurs. In a surprising twist though, it was the far more inexperienced amateurs that stole the show at Aintree.
As they approached the finishing post, it was a two horse race with Sam Waley-Cohen battling it out with William Biddick. The former emerged victorious, guiding 25/1 outsider Oscar Time to a surprise victory. In doing so, Waley-Cohen further bolstered his reputation as something of a Grand National fence specialist with that his fifth win over the challenging obstacles.
2017 – Nigel Twiston-Davies does it again
A rather comfortable afternoon for Blaklion handed Nigel Twiston-Davies his sixth Becher Chase win. At the time, no other trainer had mustered more than three wins, giving the Naunton-based trainer a handsome lead on top of the trainer rankings for this race.
2019 – First successful title defence
As we have included in this written history of the Becher Chase, both Into The Red and Hello Bud won this race on two separate occasions. What neither of them did however was successfully win the long-distance contest in consecutive renewals. The first horse to manage this feat was Robert Walford’s Walk In The Mill who won in no-nonsense fashion in 2018 and again in 2019.