The £145,000 Randox Health Becher Chase is the feature race at Aintree next Saturday, the only fixture outside of the Grand National Festival to have horses running over the Grand National fences.
The 2016 Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri (Kim Bailey) tops the weights on 11st 12lb for the Becher Chase, run over three and a quarter miles. The nine-year-old finished third behind Vieux Lion Rouge (David Pipe, 11st 5lb) and Highland Lodge (Jimmy Moffatt, 10st 5lb) in this contest 12 months ago.
The nine-year-old found only Rule The World too good for him in the 2016 renewal and was strongly fancied to go one better back on Merseyside in April, but in the end he weakened from four out to finish just sixteenth behind One For Arthur.
Plans for another crack at the Aintree marathon are probably on the table but firstly Bailey will take in the Becher Chase, having seen his star stayer run a blinder on his seasonal reappearance over hurdles at Kempton, finishing second to Bags Groove in a handicap hurdle over two miles and five furlongs at Kempton Park on November 13th.
Trainer Kim Bailey said after the race: "The Last Samuri is in good form and on course for the Randox Health Becher Chase.
"It was a good run at Kempton and, provided he is in the same sort of form as he is now he should have a very good chance.
"We will get the Becher Chase out the way first before deciding where we go for the rest of the season."
Last year’s Grand National fourth Blaklion, who has been the favourite for the Becher Chase since the entries were revealed, has been allotted 11st 6lb. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, a five-time winner of the race, is also responsible for last year’s Hennessy Gold Cup third Double Ross (11st 1lb).
Other entries to have run well in the 2017 Randox Health Grand National include Gas Line Boy (fifth, Ian Williams, 10st 9lb), who fell when travelling well in a handicap chase over the Mildmay Course last month, and Regal Encore (eighth, Anthony Honeyball, 11st 3lb).
Paul Nicholls has four entries in total, including dual Scottish Grand National victor Vicente (11st 4lb) who was a close second on his comeback at Cheltenham’s November Meeting.
Neil Mulholland has entered the The Young Master (10st 12lb) and Doing Fine (10st 4lb).
Gordon Elliott’s pair Mala Beach and Ucello Conti have been given 11st 2lb and 10st 13lb respectively, while the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere (Jim Culloty), seventh in last season’s Grand National, will carry at least 10st 11lb.
Two winners have gone on to win the Grand National - Amberleigh House and Silver Birch. Earth Summit won the race in 1998 following his Grand National win the previous season.
Will this year’s race give us any clues for next April? We will have to wait and see.
Grand Sefton Chase
The second race of the day over the Grand National fences on Becher Chase Day is the £70,000 Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
Nicky Henderson's O O Seven heads the weights on 11st 12lb and is a 12-1 chance with us here at 888sport.
Paul Nicholls, successful in two of the last four renewals, has five of the 37 entries to choose from, headed by the 2016 winner As De Mee (11st 9lb) He is priced up as a 12-1 chance with us.
Three Irish-trained entries include the Grade One scorer Clarcam (Gordon Elliott,11st 11lb) and Polidam (Willie Mullins,10st 12lb). They are trading at 25/1 and 9/1 respectively.
Go Conquer, who is also entered in the Becher Chase, is an 8-1 chance for the Grand Sefton and will carry 11st 11lb should he run.
Other Becher Chase Day news
As previously announced, Aintree’s Listed Chase over three miles and a furlong on Becher Chase Day, won last year by Many Clouds, has been re-named in honour of the 2015 Grand National winner and upgraded from Listed to Grade 2 level. It will be run as the £50,000 G2 Many Clouds Chase.
John Baker, Managing Director of Aintree Racecourse, added: “We’re thrilled that Randox Health has decided to extend their sponsorship of the Grand National by adding the Becher Chase as well.
“Randox is a committed, valued and exciting partner for Aintree and Jockey Club Racecourses and we look forward to working closely with the team at Randox for many years to come.
“Becher Chase Day is going from strength to strength and with the quality of horses entered in both the Becher and Sefton Chase in recent years, we’re confident it’s going to be another fantastic day over the iconic Grand National fences at Aintree.”
Aintree are also offering a great incentive to get young people through the gates next Saturday. If you are aged 18-24, you can go FREE to the Aintree Becher Chase Meeting next Saturday by signing up and purchasing a RacePass ticket online.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*