Last year’s winner Vieux Lion Rouge is among 24 five-day confirmations for the £145,000 G3 Randox Health Becher Chase (1.30pm), one of two races over the famous Grand National fences at Aintree on Becher Chase Day, Saturday, December 9.
Vieux Lion Rouge (David Pipe, 11st 5lb) stayed on gamely to win last year’s running of the three and a quarter mile handicap chase, defeating 2015 scorer Highland Lodge (Jimmy Moffatt, 10st 5lb) by a short-head in a thrilling finish.
Vieux Lion Rouge, who also captured last season’s G3 Grand National Trial at Haydock Park before finishing sixth in the Randox Health Grand National, is bidding to become the third dual winner of the Randox Health Becher Chase, following on from Into The Red (1994 & 1996) and Hello Bud (2010 & 2012).
The eight-year-old was fourth on his reappearance behind Bristol De Mai in the G2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on November 4.
Pipe said: “Vieux Lion Rouge ran well at Wetherby and has improved for that run. Blaklion looks the one to beat and it’s a case of the softer the ground, the better for Vieux Lion Rouge.
“Touch wood, he jumps the Grand National fences better than park fences and I think we go to Aintree on Saturday with a good chance.
“The horse hasn’t got the trip in the Grand National for the past two years, although he ran well for longer this year. He is eight turning nine and hopefully that will help him come April next year.”
Randox Health Grand National fourth Blaklion (11st 6lb) is clear favourite with bookmakers following an excellent second to stablemate Bristol De Mai in the G2 Charlie Hall Chase. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has won the race a record five times.
Somerset handler Paul Nicholls has two entries going forward, headed by last year’s impressive Grand Sefton Handicap Chase victor As De Mee (11st 2lb). Scottish Grand National hero Vicente (11st 4lb) is also engaged, although he could contest the G2 188bet.co.uk Many Clouds Chase (2.35pm) over the Mildmay Course.
Nicholls said: “As De Mee goes in the Randox Health Becher Chase. I have left him in the Grand Sefton as well, just in case the ground gets very testing, but I intend to run him in the longer race.
“He has run three times over the Grand National fences, winning the Grand Sefton last year, but I am confident that he will stay the Becher Chase trip.
“He won over three and a quarter miles at Kelso earlier this season and I have been pleased with him. He loves the fences and the Becher looks the right race for him.
“Vicente won’t be running the Becher Chase but he could head to Aintree on Saturday for the Many Clouds Chase instead. I was very pleased with him at Cheltenham and he has come out of that race well.”
The weights are headed by The Last Samuri (Kim Bailey, 11st 12lb), who was runner-up in the 2016 Grand National and third in this race last year.
Several others who completed in this year’s Randox Health Grand National also remain engaged – Gas Line Boy (fifth, Ian Williams, 10st 9lb), Lord Windermere (seventh, Jim Culloty IRE, 10st 11lb) and Goodtoknow (13th, Kerry Lee, 10st 9lb).