Don’t tell the animal activists, but just under half of the season’s races over the legendary Grand National fences are set to take place at Aintree on Saturday in the form of the Becher Chase and Grand Sefton, with the other three – the National itself, the Topham and the Foxhunter – all taking place in April.
The return of the famous fences means the return of a few old faces, with last season’s National second The Last Samuri heading the weights in the Becher Handicap Chase (1:35). The Last Samuri shaped as if he’d be better for his run when fifth in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal last time, and the extra distance here should see him to better effect. The red-hot Brian Hughes being on his back for the first time is no bad thing, either.
Ucello Conti also took well to the fences here back in April (sixth in the National) and, still lightly raced for Gordon Elliott, he’s a likely player too. One place behind Ucello Conti in the National was Vieux Lion Rouge, who tops the Timeform ratings for this race. Vieux Lion Rouge shaped much better than the beaten distance suggested that day, having got right onto the heels of the principals on the home turn before his stamina gave way. Now back down in trip, he could be worth a bet.
Colin Tizzard is in such good form that he could probably send out one of his dairy cows to win a race at the moment. His Cheltenham winner Viconte du Noyer, who is unexposed over staying trips, also holds obvious claims.
Dr Richard Newland knows a thing or two about training a winner over the National fences, having won the great race with Pineau de Re in 2014. The Good Doctor picked Pineau de Re up in Ireland before taking his form to a new level at Aintree, and he may well be able to do similar with one of his newer recruits, Seefood, who lines up in the Grand Sefton (3:15pm).
It took a few starts for Seefood to find his feet for Newland after leaving Sandra Hughes, but he was back to his very best when winning at Musselburgh in early-November and may well have more to offer yet.
Elsewhere on the card, the 2015 National hero Many Clouds may be hard to catch if allowed the lead in the Listed chase at 2;40pm. Minella Rocco is the obvious threat, though he may not be ideally suited by the small field given he seems to prefer and end-to-end gallop.
In the preceding race at 2.10pm, the Flat-bred Leoncavallo looks on an interesting mark based on his second to Sceau Royal at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting in October. He lost a shoe in the Greatwood Hurdle last time and the return to a flat track and better ground could see him go close.
- Vieux Lion Rouge in the 13:35
- Leoncavallo in the 14:10
- Many Clouds in the 14:40
- Seefood in the 15:15