Connections on key Becher Chase contenders

Saturday: 2.40 Aintree
Unibet Becher Handicap Chase (Grade 3) | 3m2f | 6yo+ | ITV4/RTV

With the benefit of four weeks' hindsight, I can now say it was a bit giddy to go linking the newly positioned Grand Sefton Chase with other autumn handicap chases like the Paddy Power. The skip that followed the Grand Sefton's hop was always going to be the Becher Chase.

A related point that was missed last month is that the programme now gives a realistic possibility of a horse winning three times over the National fences in the same season. That will surely be Mac Tottie's aim, particularly with his yard's previous in producing multiple winners over these fences.

The traditional use for this race is as a Grand National prep, with varying levels of intent. Showing some strong Aintree form can be damaging to a Grand National hopeful's handicap mark, although on the flip side the bottom half of this field probably need a rise in the weights to make the cut for the big one.

Eight of the field are actually out of the weights, including a couple of Judith Wilson-owned recruits from France who are more than a stone 'wrong'. That helps thin down the field a little and makes the extra place offers (six and seven places each-way are easy to find) all the more attractive.

The weights are set by Chris's Dream, who is giving 9lb to the field. Off 162, he is the highest-rated runner in the Becher since 1996 and only the second runner off a mark of 160+ in the meantime.

Chris's Dream is one of a number whose stamina for the 3m2f trip is in doubt. It is encouraging, but by no means conclusive, that he was still going well enough when unseating four out in April's Grand National. Technically, he had covered more than 3m2f by then but what was left included a large proportion of the actual racing.

Mac Tottie is another with stamina to prove, along with the likes of Didero Vallis, Checkitout, Hill Sixteen and the aforementioned French recruits. The Becher can turn into a real test, but for that to happen this year depends on the forecast rain arriving at Aintree. Without that, stamina may not be at the premium it can be in this race's more mud-spattered renewals.

The pace tends to ebb and flow in even the shorter races over the National fences, and it is expected to be the same here. There are still plenty of horses who can inject early pace over the first three fences, which come up relatively quickly and include a ditch as the second of them. Lord Du Mesnil, Top Ville Ben, Snow Leopardess and Grand Sefton fourth Via Dolorosa are among the likelier types.

And then there is dear old Vieux Lion Rouge. A fall at the 20th in the Grand National brought to an end his unblemished course record, which includes nine completions and form figures in this race of 17291. He is 12 now and 5lb higher than when dotting up in this race last year, but if your main aim is to find a safe conveyance for those first seven places then you need look no further than this minor Aintree legend.
Keith Melrose, betting editor

Mac Tottie gunning for unique double

Last month's Grand Sefton winner Mac Tottie returns to Aintree in an attempt to complete a unique double over the Grand National fences.

Mac Tottie revelled on his first try over the famous course to score for father-and-son team Peter and James Bowen.

Moving up from 2m5f to 3m2f should not be a problem for the second-season chaser, who beat Senior Citizen by a length last time with a further 12 lengths back to the third.

"I'm really looking forward to riding him again," said James Bowen, who partners dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll in the preceding Many Clouds Chase.

"He really ran through the line in the Grand Sefton and the step up in trip should play to his strengths. He's been put up 7lb so we've got that to deal with, but we're off a nice weight again on 10st 6lb. He'll take a bit of beating if everything goes well."

What they say

Richard Hobson, trainer of Lord Du Mesnil
He's been in training long enough so I don't think he'll need the run. He's got a lovely weight and as long as we get the juice in the ground we're hopeful we'll get, he should run a big race.

Tom Lacey, trainer of Kimberlite Candy
The rain has come in time and we feel we're in a really good place. His record round there speaks for itself and we're looking forward to running him.

Gordon Elliott, trainer of Ravenhill
He's got some good form from a few years back, including winning the National Hunt Chase. It will be interesting to see how he takes to these fences and hopefully he'll have an enjoyable experience.

David Pipe, trainer of Vieux Lion Rouge, Via Dolorosa, Abaya Du Mathan and El Paso Wood
Vieux Lion Rouge is in great form and schooled well over the fences this week. He's 12 now but is still working well at home, like he always does. This has always been the plan, he had a nice prep at Chepstow and a bit more rain would help. We're unsure about the extra trip for Via Dolorosa, but he ran well in the Sefton and took to the fences really well. Abaya Du Mathan and El Paso Wood have decent form from France and have schooled nicely at home over the fences, but they're a fair way out the weights so it'll be tough.

Charlie Longsdon, trainer of Snow Leopardess
This has always been the plan this season. We went to Bangor first time out and were lucky it turned out to be soft ground. I thought the track might be a bit sharp but she jumped great. She's bold and brave, which is not necessarily ideal over the National fences, but she went over the fences fine in Lambourn last week. She's in great form and her best form seems to be left-handed, so there should be no issues.

Jamie Snowden, trainer of Hogan's Height
Nothing went right last season but we've not missed a beat with him this time. He's in great order, he loves the fences and his rating has come down to a manageable mark. Two and a half miles on good ground in the Grand Sefton was too sharp and a bit of soft ground and stepping up in trip will suit him better.

Ben Pauling, trainer of Le Breuil
He loves it at Aintree and owes us nothing after his victory in the National Hunt Chase at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. I think we could send him hunter chasing in the new year.
Reporting by Andrew Dietz