James Boyle’s Ante-Post Value – The Becher Chase
First things first, last week’s Hennessy Gold Cup column went all right with Merry King running a cracking race to finish in the places, landing each-way spoils for his backers. At one point it looked as if he’d go on to win the big prize (traded long odds-on), but his finishing effort wasn’t there for some reason, sadly. Anyway, no complaints and it’s possible that he’ll be able to get his rewards in one of the long distance handicaps before the season is out. The Grand National is being talked about now, but I can see those fences eating him alive. He’s not big and they take some jumping!
Now it’s time to take a look at Saturday’s Becher Chase, a viciously competitive 3m 2f handicap run over the National fences. Stamina and jumping prowess will be badly needed and given the fact that he stayed on strongly to win this race last year, it’s no surprise to see Chance Du Roy heading the market for the red-hot Philip Hobbs team. He’s an admirable sort who has got plenty of form over these unique fences and this is undoubtedly the target since his Grand National sixth.
The question is whether he’s handicapped attractively enough to score now 6lb higher than when beating Baby Run last year. On his old form he’s still on a winnable mark so maybe it’s a complete non-issue, but he’s rising 11-years-old and to score in this will require something very close to a career-best. As such, although most of what you want in a potential selection is in place with him, I’m not willing to take 10/1 about the horse making it back-to-back wins in the race. It looks a deeper contest this time around as well, so I’m swerving.
Balbriggan is next up in the market at around 11/1 and since the 7-year-old joined Gordon Elliott earlier this year, he has come alive. The application of a tongue-tie seems to have brought about a lot of improvement and it all came to a head last time out when the grey landed a big punt in the valuable Troytown Handicap at Navan. There he travelled strongly on the front-end, jumped perfectly for the most part (if not a little to the left) and went on to score by nearly a couple of lengths. It’s a performance that entitles him to a lot of respect, even off 10lbs higher now, but he did get an easy lead there (relative to a 25-runner field!) and no prisoners will be taken this time around, something that’s enough to put me off.
The likes of Green Flag and Mendip Express are respected as potential improvers, but neither make much appeal at 12/1. I’m going to back a couple each-way in the hope of hitting upon a place at worst and the first of those is HIGHLAND LODGE (16/1) for Emma Lavelle and Andrew Thornton. The 8-year-old has been a massive disappointment over fences to date, mainly because of the promise he showed early doors, but off a mark of 132 he appeals as being well-handicapped (11lbs lower than when sent off as fav in the Welsh National last year) and if ever there’ll be a resurgence, it could be now tackling these fences for the first time off a lowly mark. On his day, he has enough ability to get involved and his handy run-style should be perfect around here. It’s probably worth ignoring his last run too, as it may have been needed and whether he faced up to the first-time visor is quite debatable.
BENBENS (16/1) is the other that I will give a tentative nod of approval to as he seems to be in cracking form and despite being a 9-year-old, has only raced six times over fences. There could be more to emerge from his locker as a result and I thought that his latest outing at Cheltenham three weeks ago was a really good effort as he finished second off this mark. The impression he gave off is that the test was a bit too much for him and although this race is over a furlong further, I do think that he’ll enjoy the way it’ll be run, along with the flatter track. Whether he’s talented enough in this sort of company is another thing altogether but I’m fairly sure he’ll win off this mark at some point, and hopefully it’s Saturday!
Selections for the Becher Chase (Saturday, 6th December; 1:30 Aintree):
Highland Lodge – 1pt each-way @ 16/1, generally available with 5 places.
Benbens – 0.50pts each-way @ 16/1, generally available with 5 places.
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