Becher Chase Day: Five things we learned about the 2019 Grand National
Walk In The Mill looks a creditable National contender
This year's Becher Chase featured three previous winners, but it was a runner having his first try over Aintree's unique fences, Walk In The Mill, who proved triumphant on this occasion - having been well supported during the week to boot.
His effort to finish third in last year's Silver Cup Handicap at Ascot, behind Gold Present and Frodon, was strong form, and he proved to be well-handicapped from 2 lb lower here; relishing the emphasis on stamina and jumping soundly in the main (only at the eighth fence did he make any resemblance of a mistake). His trainer Robert Walford conceded that the Grand National is the plan when asked after the Becher, and considering that he very much looks the part for that race, the rest of his campaign is likely to be centered around the April showpiece.
The Grand National fences still take some jumping
Much has been made about the fences on the National Course in recent years, and the changes which were implemented in 2013 in order to make them safer for both the runners and the riders.
It is without a doubt that the fences don't quite pose the same threat that they once used to - something that has paid dividends in the fact that there has been no fatility in the Grand National since 2012. The fences are still a test, however, shown by the fact that 6 of the 18-strong field were unable to finish, with a previous winner of the race, Highland Lodge, caught out at the eleventh fence. Indeed, these fences still require a specialist, something shown by the revitalisation of Vieux Lion Rouge, who bounced back to form by staying on well to take second in the closing stages.
Blaklion's window of opportunity has perhaps passed
It takes a combination of factors to be able to win the Grand National, and it very much feels like one horse each year is in the right place at the right time. Blaklion's chance perhaps came and went in 2016, when he crossed the Melling Road on the bridle - hitting a low of 1.52 on the exchanges - before fading in the closing stages, perhaps doing too much too soon on the day.
His 2016/17 was as a result sculpted around another National bid, winning this race on route, but ultimately it wasn't to be, with Blaklion brought down in unfortunate circumstances at the first when carrying top weight. Saturday's reappearance was a disappointing one, finishing the race, but doing do beaten 62-lengths into 11th place. He is likely to be eased in the weights by the handicapper as a result, but his time may have gone from a win perspective.
Returning heroes have plenty to prove
It was heartwarming to see two familiar names, Don Poli and One For Arthur, return to the track on Saturday after a sustained absence, though neither were able to live up to their former glories; with One For Arthur departing in the Many Clouds Chase at an early stage and Don Poli offering little in the Becher before being pulled-up.
The latter perhaps has more to prove than the former, giving serious doubts as to whether he will ever be able to replicate the top-class form he showed earlier in his career, but both may need to have their sights lowered if they are to return to winning ways.
Trevor Hemmings' horses come to life at Aintree
Some connections can go a lifetime without ever even getting close to being involved with a Grand National winner, so it is continously astonishing just how successful Trevor Hemmings has been with runners over these fences.
He's of course won the National itself three times, and his latest triumph came in the Grand Sefton Handicap on Saturday with Warriors Tale. Initially bought with the big race in mind, he didn't stay the trip when tried there in April, but he handled the course fine, and this intermediate trip proved much more to his liking; staying on well to lead inside the final furlong. The National may be beyond reach, but it would be no surprise should Paul Nicholls be thinking about the Topham instead.
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