Blaklion bids to retain Becher Chase crown
A superb round of jumping propelled Blaklion (Sam Twiston-Davies, 11st 10lb) to an impressive nine-length victory in this race in 2017 and the nine-year-old has the chance to emulate Into The Red (1994 & 1996) and Hello Bud (2010 & 2012), who are the only multiple winners of the Becher Handicap Chase.
Blaklion's trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies also saddles (Grade 3) Scottish Grand National second Ballyoptic (11st 7lb, Tom Bellamy), as he chases an unprecedented seventh victory in the three and a quarter mile highlight.
Highland Lodge has contested the race three times since joining Cumbria trainer Jimmy Moffatt, winning in the 2015, going down by a short-head to Vieux Lion Rouge in 2016, and finishing third last year.
Now a 12-year-old, Highland Lodge has not run since being pulled up in the (Grade 2) Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock Park in January.
Jimmy Moffatt said today: "Highland Lodge has had a good summer and is very, very well in himself.
"We have aimed at the Becher Handicap Chase for the last three years and he has always performed very well.
"It does not seem like age is catching up with him because his work has been very good, particularly over the last three weeks.
"The race seems to suit him above all others and he does run very well fresh. We have geared the last four or five months around this one day.
"Just A Par has not run for a while and we bought the horse at the August sales. He had been in pre-training at Di Turner's, which is a holding yard for Cheveley Park Stud who originally owned him, and he was recommended to me by Di.
"Di said the horse had done very well and that the minor joint problem, which had kept him off the track, had sorted itself out with no issues since.
"We have prepared Just A Par the same way we have prepared Highland Lodge. Although they have been working separately, they have been doing similar work, and my thinking was that if we can get one horse ready for it, there is no reason why we couldn't get another one ready.
"If I ran Just A Par in a 0-150 chase off of his mark of 146, I am not sure he will have the legs of those horses, but I do believe that the Grand National fences poses a different angle for all horses.
"Highland Lodge is case in point as he struggles over regulation chases but over the Grand National fences he seems to be a different horse, and I am hoping Just A Par will be similar."
The weights are headed by Gigginstown House Stud's Don Poli (Gordon Elliott IRE/Jack Kennedy, 11st 12lb), one of six Irish-trained runners. A multiple Grade 1 winner over fences for Willie Mullins, the nine-year-old has been restricted to just three starts since joining Gordon Elliott in the autumn of 2016, the latest of which saw him finish a close third in the (Grade 1) Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February, 2017.
The Irish challenge also features Crosshue Boy (Sean Doyle IRE/David Mullins, 10st 10lb), who landed a valuable novices' handicap chase at Ayr in the spring, Call It Magic (Ross O'Sullivan IRE/Mark Enright, 10st 1lb), Fine Theatre (Paul Nolan IRE/Paddy Brennan, 10st) and Dare To Endeavour (Patrick Griffin IRE/Adam Short (3), 10st).
Ultragold (Colin Tizzard/Tom O'Brien, 11st) boasts an excellent record over the Grand National fences, having captured the last two renewals of the Randox Health Topham Chase, including at odds of 50/1 in 2017.
Present Man (Paul Nicholls/Bryony Frost, 11st 3lb) and Missed Approach (Warren Greatrex/Mr Sam Waley-Cohen (3), 10st 12lb) are both aiming for another big handicap success in 2018. Present Man landed the (listed) Badger Ales Trophy for the second year in succession at Wincanton last month, while Missed Approach captured the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Recent Cheltenham third Walk In The Mill (Robert Walford/James Best, 10st 3lb), Regal Flow (Bob Buckler/James Bowen, 10st 6lb), Mustmeetalady (Jonjo O'Neill/Richie McLernon, 10st) and Federici (Donald McCain/Brian Hughes, 10st) complete the 18 runners.
Full 18 declarations and their allocated weights for the 2018 (Grade 3) Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree:
DON POLI (IRE) - 11-12 - Gordon Elliott (IRE)
BLAKLION - 11-10 - Nigel Twiston-Davies
BALLYOPTIC (IRE) - 11-07 - Nigel Twiston-Davies
NOBLE ENDEAVOR (IRE) - 11-04 - Gordon Elliott (IRE)
PRESENT MAN (IRE) - 11-03 - Paul Nicholls
ULTRAGOLD (FR) - 11-00 - Colin Tizzard
VIEUX LION ROUGE (FR) - 10-12 - David Pipe
MISSED APPROACH (IRE) - 10-12 - Warren Greatrex
JUST A PAR (IRE) - 10-12 - James Moffatt
CROSSHUE BOY (IRE) - 10-10 - Sean Doyle (IRE)
REGAL FLOW - 10-06 - Bob Buckler
WALK IN THE MILL (FR) - 10-03 - Robert Walford
CALL IT MAGIC (IRE) - 10-01 - Ross O'Sullivan (IRE)
HIGHLAND LODGE (IRE) - 10-01 - James Moffatt
FINE THEATRE (IRE) - 9-12 Paul Nolan (IRE)
FEDERICI - 9-10 - Donald McCain
MUSTMEETALADY (IRE) - 9-10 - Jonjo O'Neill
DARE TO ENDEAVOUR - 8-11 - Patrick Griffin (IRE)
Published at 14:55 06/12/18
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