Snow Leopardess becomes the first mare to win Becher Chase Handicap

Snow Leopardess (4-1 Favourite) made history at Aintree on Saturday when becoming the first mare to win the Grade Three Unibet Becher Handicap Chase over the Grand National fences. 

The Charlie Longsdon-trained nine year old was a game winner having been in front for the majority of the extended 3m 1f contest, taking the lead approaching the sixth (The Chair) of the 21 fences.

Jumping supremely well under Aidan Coleman, the daughter of Martaline developed a healthy advantage over her rivals, but turning for home looked to be tiring.

Memories of the epic duel between Red Rum and Crisp in the 1973 Grand National were evoked as Hill Sixteen was delivered with an ominous-looking challenge after the last fence. However, this time the leader would not be caught with the gallant grey mare holding on gamely to take the honours by a nose in the colours of Andrew Fox-Pitt. 

Winning trainer Longsdon said: “She jumped beautifully and this has been the plan for a long time. I’m just lost for words. She’s been a very special mare for us and has won in England, Ireland and France. 

“She’s had setbacks – you name it she’s had it – but there she is again, back competing with the best. They pulled well clear of the rest and she got lonely in front. Aidan said he’d have kicked himself if they’d have got beat. She’s a dude and a one in a lifetime for a middle-sized yard like ours. 

“She was very clever all the way round - she got in a little close at Valentine’s, but she’s so quick on her feet. I have no idea what now - I know the owners are not sure whether to go for the Grand National but she doesn’t have to go there. Watch this space.”

Snow Leopardess has already given birth to a filly by Sir Percy, who is now a two year old, and Longsdon said that filly may go into training next year.

He concluded: “She is a special story and the Fox-Pitts are special people. We are just very lucky to have her and any jockey would love to ride her.”

Winning jockey Aidan Coleman added: “That was great fun and she was very brave. She is such a good jumper and going from the front is the way she likes to be ridden. 

“It’s very breezy today and very open here from the back of the last. She was just wanting some company and I would have been absolutely sick if we had got beaten because I went from the best fun of my life to possibly not winning! She ran on when she got the rail and is very tough. 

“I wasn’t sure I had held on but everyone said I had. I said, ‘it’s closer than you think’ and so it was.

“She really deserved it and fair play to Charlie (Longsdon), the owners and everybody involved. It’s great and it was a good prize to win.” 

As regards a possible Randox Grand National challenge, Coleman concluded: “She probably does like that softer ground but you never know how it will be in the National with the way the weather is.”

Snow Leopardess was bred by the late Oliver Fox-Pitt and his wife Marietta, who recently transferred ownership to her son Andrew.

Her daughter-in-law is ITV Racing presenter Alice Plunkett who remarked after today’s race: “Marietta, my mother-in-law, is so passionate about horses and racing and Andrew her son, whose colours the horse ran in today, has worked so hard to keep this all going.

“They’ve done all sorts of crazy things with her, but this was her dream to win a race over these fences. She’s won in France and now she’s won a race over the biggest fences and Marietta said – she was there at her foaling – her husband Oliver died and when this mare was born, she said it was the first time it made her smile since then and she’s made us smile ever since. 

“The grannies were up at 7am on the train going up there and it’s just amazing and it’s down to Andrew, Nellie and all the team at Knowlton. This is the fifth generation of her family and she just gives so much to her horses and I’m so proud of her and all the team at Knowlton.”

The final race at Aintree today was the Unibet - 2021 Horserace Betting Operator Of The Year Handicap Hurdle (2m 4f) which saw 2-1 favourite Tamar Bridge get up to score by a short-head for trainer Olly Murphy and jockey Adrian Heskin.

Winning owner Max McNeill said: “That was a great run and a great ride. We thought the rain coming – and it’s pretty miserable up here! – would help him. He’s a solid galloper and he’s a bloody good horse now, that’s four wins out of five over hurdles.”