Thursday, December 1, 2016 - A splendid field of 24, the second highest ever, is set to go to post for the £140,000 Betfred Becher Handicap Chase (1.35pm), the highlight of the seven-race programme at Aintree on Saturday, December 3, Betfred Becher Chase Community Day. The Betfred Becher Handicap Chase is staged over just short three and a quarter miles of the Grand National course.
In the 2015 renewal of the Grade Three race, Highland Lodge (Jimmy Moffatt/Henry Brooke, 10st 4lb, 16/1 with Betfred) came home two and a quarter lengths in front of Dare To Endeavour (Eric McNamara IRE/Harry Skelton, 10st 2lb, 20/1), who re-opposes on Saturday. Highland Lodge made one more appearance last season after his Betfred Becher Chase success when pulling up in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April.
Moffatt, who is based at Cartmel in Cumbria, said today: "It is all systems go with Highland Lodge and I am very happy with him. He has done all his work now and we are just keeping him fresh for Saturday.
"When he won last year, he had already had a couple of runs for Emma (Lavelle) earlier in the season and had been on the horse walker since October 15. He had a level of fitness last year whereas this time he has had a nice, gradual run - he has been in full-training since the middle of July and the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase has been the plan.
"He has run well fresh in the past and has also been called a few names! He has done two serious two and a half mile gallops on the grass. He hasn't been on track but that has been on purpose as we have lovely big fields here we can work him around.
"The mistake I made with him last year after his Becher win when I was prepping him for the National was when I gave him a workout at Haydock. He worked exceptionally well that day and I had it in my mind after the Scottish National that he may have left his race behind there. There is no hiding place on track and if we are right, we are right and if we are wrong, we are wrong.
"It was soft ground when he won last year and obviously we would like conditions to be replicated as much as possible. But if you dip back in his form he had run some good races on good ground, including when he was fourth in the Hennessy."
No horse has ever won back-to-back renewals of the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase, with the only dual scorer Hello Bud recording non-consecutive victories in 2010 and 2012.
Jointly-heading the market at 8/1 with Betfred is Ucello Conti (Gordon Elliott IRE/Daryl Jacob). The eight-year-old was sixth in the 2016 Grand National behind Rule The Word and warmed up for the Betfred Becher Chase with a run over hurdles at Navan on November 13. Betfred's other 8/1 joint-favourite is Alvarado (Fergal O'Brien/Paul Moloney, 10st 4lb), who finished fourth in the Grand National in both 2014 and 2015.
Heading the weights is last season's Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri (Kim Bailey/Brian Hughes, 11st 12lb, 10/1), who was fifth on his seasonal reappearance in a Grade One contest at Down Royal on November 5.
Also on the 10/1 mark with Betfred are Viconte du Noyer (Colin Tizzard/Aidan Coleman, 11st 7lb), who landed a valuable G3 handicap chase at Cheltenham's Open meeting last month and Vieux Lion Rouge (David Pipe/Tom Scudamore, 10st 9lb), who will be making his first appearance since coming home seventh in the Grand National.
Others prominent in Betfred's market are last season's bet365 Gold Cup winner The Young Master (Neil Mulholland/Mr Sam Waley-Cohen (3), 11st 3lb, 12/1), recent Sligo scorer Sizing Coal (Jim Dreaper IRE/Mark Enright, 10st 3lb, 14/1) and the 2015 Grand National second Saint Are (Tom George/Brian Harding, 11st).
Nigel Twiston-Davies, the most successful trainer of all-time in Betfred Becher Handicap Chase with five wins, is set to be represented by last week's Hennessy Gold Cup third Double Ross (Jamie Bargary, 11st 2lb, 20/1) and Cogry (Ryan Hatch, 10st 1lb, 16/1), third in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter in March.
The combination of owner Gigginstown House Stud, trainer Mouse Morris and jockey David Mullins - successful in the 2016 Grand National with Rule The World - are represented by 2016 Irish Grand National winner Rogue Angel (10st 12lb, 25/1).
Declared runners for the other six races on the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase Community Day will be known tomorrow, including the £70,000 Betfred Grand Sefton Handicap Chase (3.15pm) over two miles and five furlongs of the Grand National course and the £40,000 Listed Betfred Lotto '£100k Cash Giveaway' Chase (2.40pm), in which 2015 Grand National hero Many Clouds (Oliver Sherwood) is expected to make his seasonal reappearance.
Betfred Becher Handicap Chase, Betfred bet: 8/1 Ucello Conti, Alvarado; 10/1 Viconte Du Noyer, The Last Samuri, Vieux Lion Rouge; 12/1 The Young Master; 14/1 Sizing Coal; 16/1 Saint Are, One For Arthur, Highland Lodge, Cogry, Silvergrove, Ziga Boy; 20/1 Dare To Endeavour, Gas Line Boy, Double Ross; 25/1 Midnight Prayer, Beeves, Milborough, Rogue Angel, Portrait King; 33/1 Bob Ford, Aachen; 40/1 Financial Climate
EW: 1/4 - 1, 2, 3, 4
The going at Aintree is currently:
Mildmay & Hurdle Courses - Good, Good to Soft in places
National Course - Good to Soft, Good in places
Andrew Tulloch said: "The forecast is for mostly cloudy conditions with some sunny spells up to and including Saturday. There could be some bits and pieces of rain around but it should not amount to much. There is a chance we could have Good ground on the Mildmay Course by Saturday.
"We have applied five millimetres of moisture to the Mildmay and National courses to maintain conditions and will have a look again tomorrow to see if we need to do any more watering.
"The course is looking in great shape ahead of Saturday and it looks to be a very strong renewal of the Betfred Becher Chase."
Betfred Becher Handicap Chase Community Day sees the official unveiling of the Peter O'Sullevan Community Hub in Paddock Lodge next to the parade ring at Aintree Racecourse.
Aintree's award-winning Community Hub was introduced in December, 2014, giving free access to the local community and the programme has been going from strength to strength, including the Beacon Racecourse schools' activity, dementia tours, working with military veterans, disabled riding sessions, the annual Alder Hey jockeys' visit and much more.
Sir A P McCoy plus the Mayor Of Sefton and Aintree's chairman Rose Paterson will officially open on Saturday morning the hub which is being supported by the Peter O'Sullevan Charitable Trust.