Don Poli heads the weights on 11st 12lb for the £150,000 Becher Handicap Chase (58 entries), run over the world-famous Grand National fences at Aintree (1.30pm) on Saturday, December 8th, Becher Chase Day.
Don Poli, one of six entries for dual Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott, captured the 2015 RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and finished third in the following year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup when trained by Willie Mullins.
The nine-year-old has been restricted to just three starts since joining Elliott in the autumn of 2016, the latest of which saw him finish a close third behind Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February, 2017.
Elliott’s sextet in the handicap chase over nearly three and a quarter miles also include the 2018 Irish Grand National victor General Principle (10st 10lb), French import Borice (10st 8lb), a dual chase scorer at Auteuil, and recent Cork Grand National winner Out Sam (10st 8lb).
Abolitionist (Dr Richard Newland) has been allotted 10st 11lb. Third in the 2017 Irish Grand National for former trainer Ellmarie Holden, he made the perfect start for new connections in Britain when scoring by 10 lengths over hurdles at Aintree on November 10th.
One For Arthur (Lucinda Russell, 11st 3lb) landed the biggest success of his career when successful in the 2017 Grand National at Aintree, becoming only the second Scottish-trained winner of the world’s greatest chase after Rubstic in 1979.
The nine-year-old, who is owned by the Two Golf Widows partnership of Belinda McClung and Deborah Thompson, has not been seen out since that famous victory, having spent last season on the sidelines.
One For Arthur is set to return to action this season and Russell, who is based near Kinross, Tayside, said on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 20th: “We have not decided yet whether One For Arthur will go for the Becher Handicap Chase.
“He will work again on Wednesday (today) and on Saturday and it also depends on the ground because he really needs it soft.
“I know it will always be very safe ground at Aintree, which I am delighted about, but I am not sure whether it will be soft enough for him.
“The horse is fine at the moment and I am happy with him – he is just eating his supper at the moment!”
Another Scottish trainer considering options ahead of Aintree on December 8th is Stuart Coltherd, based at Selkirk in the Scottish Borders.
Coltherd trains Captain Redbeard, who hold entries Becher Handicap Chase (10st 10lb) and the £80,000 Aintree Grand Sefton Handicap Chase (10st 6lb).
The nine-year-old landed the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase over two miles and seven furlongs at Haydock Park in December, 2017 and also finished runner-up to The Dutchman (Colin Tizzard, 11st in Becher Handicap Chase) in the Peter Marsh Chase over an extended three miles and a furlong back at the same venue in January. He was a well-supported 20/1 chance for the Grand National in April, but unseated jockey Sam Coltherd at the seventh fence.
Captain Redbeard reappeared at Carlisle on November 4th, running an encouraging race to finish third in a handicap hurdle over two and a half miles.
Coltherd reported: “We would like to go to Aintree again with Captain Redbeard and we hope to run him in one of the two races over the Grand National fences next month. We haven’t made our minds whether it will be the Becher or the Sefton yet, but the plan is to run in one of them.
“It was a good run back over hurdles at Carlisle. We thought he wouldn’t be that far away and he had quite a weight on his back. He certainly didn’t run like the outsider of the field. It was a good performance and hopefully it should have put him right.
“He is in at Haydock Park this Saturday (3.35pm Better Value On The Betfair Exchange Handicap Chase, 3m 1½f). It is a possibility we could run there before going on to Aintree. He is a horse that has not had a lot of racing in his life, so could take in Haydock before hopefully going on to Aintree in December.
“With the way the climate is at the moment, you never know what is happening next. Although he has won on heavy ground, we always thought he wanted better ground. It was just last season we were never going to get better ground. The Tommy Whittle came along and we ended up winning it before finishing second in the Peter Marsh. It looks like his best form is on heavy ground, but for me he will be a better horse on good ground.
“The long-term target all being well would be to have another attempt at the Grand National.”
Last year’s Becher Handicap Chase winner Blaklion (11st 10lb), who scored impressively by nine lengths, is 5lb higher in the ratings this time around. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, the most successful handler in the race with six victories, could also run Scottish Grand National second Ballyoptic (11st 7lb), Go Conquer (10st 13lb) and Calett Mad (10st 6lb).
Ultragold (Colin Tizzard, 11st) has landed the last two renewals of the Topham Chase over the Grand National fences at the Grand National Festival in April. He has yet to race beyond an extended three miles.
Dual Listed Badgers Ales Trophy Handicap Chase victor Present Man (11st 3lb), the mount of Bryony Frost, has the most weight of the four Paul Nicholls-trained entries. Nicholls’s quartet also features the Trevor Hemmings-owned pair of Vicente (10st 13lb), who is a two-time winner of the Scottish Grand National, and Warriors Tale (10st 13lb).
Fellow Somerset-based trainer Philip Hobbs could try for a third win in the Becher Handicap Chase with Rock The Kasbah (11st 5lb). The eight-year-old has been raised 6lb in the ratings following his victory in the BetVictor Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on November 17th.
Owner Robert Waley-Cohen, who is no stranger to success over the Grand National fences, has two contenders as part owner of The Young Master (Neil Mulholland, 10st 8lb) and Topham Chase third Theatre Territory (Warren Greatrex, 9st 12lb), both normally ridden by his experienced amateur-rider son Sam who has a tremendous record over the Grand National fences. The Young Master has been rejuvenated this season, scoring readily in handicap chases at Chepstow and Cheltenham.
The potential Irish challengers also include the Joseph O’Brien-trained Vieux Morvan (10st 12lb), Crosshue Boy (Sean Doyle, 10st 10lb), who was successful in a valuable novices’ handicap chase at Ayr’s Scottish Grand National meeting in April, and G2-winning mare Baie Des Iles (Ross O’Sullivan, 10st 10lb).
Progressive eight-year-old Step Back (Mark Bradstock, 11st 1lb), who ended last season with a 13-length demolition of his rivals in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park, is another contender.
Frodon top-weight for Aintree Grand Sefton Handicap Chase
Weights are also unveiled today for the other race over the Grand National fences on Becher Chase Day, the £80,000 Aintree Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over the intermediate distance of two miles and five furlongs.
Recent BetVictor Gold Cup runner-up Frodon (Paul Nicholls), regularly ridden by Frost, heads the weights on 11st 12lb. The six-year-old has started the season in fine form, having also captured the Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase over the Mildmay Course at Aintree in October.
Gold Present (Nicky Henderson) has been allotted 11st. He defeated Frodon by three lengths to gain the biggest victory of his career in a three-mile Listed handicap chase at Ascot last season.