Blaklion 'worthy' Becher favourite at Aintree
Last Updated: 08/12/17 1:18pm
Nigel Twiston-Davies is excited at seeing Blaklion return to Aintree for the Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase on Saturday.
The eight-year-old was fourth in the Grand National in April after looking like the winner before weakening in the closing stages.
He goes back to Liverpool on the back of an excellent run in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, where he was only beaten half a length by stablemate Bristol De Mai. That form looks even better after the latter's runaway win in the Betfair Chase.
"Blaklion has huge Grand National potential. He possibly went too soon last year and didn't quite get home," said the Naunton handler, who is seeking to win the Becher for a sixth time.
"It was still a really good run and he did look the winner three out. We would probably ride him with more restraint next time.
"The run in Charlie Hall Chase looks very good form. There wasn't much between him and Bristol De Mai and the handicapper has not been too hard on him.
"Everything looks perfect for him in the Becher and, with a clear run, I would be very excited. I don't want to get too excited though as when that happens, something usually goes wrong! He looks a worthy favourite anyway.
"We will see how he goes on Saturday before making a plan. If he romps home, do we maybe start looking at him as a Gold Cup horse? I don't know."
Vieux Lion Rouge landed the prize 12 months ago, but has finished behind Blaklion in both the National and Charlie Hall since beating him in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February.
His trainer David Pipe expects Blaklion to be a tough rival yet again.
"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," said the Nicholashayne handler.
"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."
The Last Samuri is another Aintree regular, having finished second in the 2016 National and a close third in this race last season where James Moffatt's 2015 winner Highland Lodge, who reopposes, was second.
Well-beaten in this year's National, Kim Bailey's nine-year-old shaped well over hurdles at Kempton on his reappearance.
"I felt sorry for the poor old boy last year (in the National) as it was very hot and he really struggled after the race," Bailey told At The Races.
"I was delighted that he came back and showed he hasn't lost his will for racing when he ran over hurdles the other day. That was very encouraging.
"We're running off the same mark he ran off this time last year. It's a very competitive race as it always is.
"Blaklion is going to be favourite and we'll take him on. It's going to be difficult for our horse."
The Last Samuri's owners Paul & Clare Rooney are also represented by Viva Steve, who shaped well when fourth in the Kerry National at Listowel on his return in September.
"Viva Steve had a little break and seems in good old form," said his trainer Fergal O'Brien.
"He ran well in the Kerry National and seems to go well fresh, so it was always the plan to head straight for the Becher after Listowel.
"We will have to wait and see how he takes to the fences, but he is a nice, straightforward horse who will handle the ground.
"Johnny Burke has done plenty of schooling on him and knows him well."
As De Mee took the Grand Sefton on this card in 2016 but trainer Paul Nicholls has no qualms abut stepping him up in distance.
"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," said the Ditcheat handler.
"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."
Colin Tizzard sees Sizing Codelco as a possible Grand National horse so he is keen to give the eight-year-old his first taste of the unique obstacles.
Tizzard said: "He has a bit too much weight, but we thought we'd give it a go as there's a chance he could make up into a Grand National horse, although he'd probably want to drop 7lb.
"He was in very good form in the spring and I'm sure he'll come again at some stage.
"He ran better than the bare form at Cheltenham last time and it will be interesting to see how he takes to the track."
Cork trainer Eoghan O'Grady has had this race as a long-term target for Westerner Point and feels the eight-year-old should be in prime fitness following two runs over hurdles.
"We're looking forward to it. He'll appreciate the testing ground and he has a nice weight," said O'Grady.
"He probably needed a run after a break and if he takes to the fences we're hoping he can run into a bit of prize money."
Jim Culloty's 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere, the Mouse Morris-trained 2016 Irish National winner Rogue Angel and Pat Griffin's Portrait King, third in last season's Topham Chase, complete a four-pronged assault from Ireland.