The Becher Chase, a 3m 2f handicap Chase race, takes place this weekend at Aintree. It was only established in 1992, but since then, it has become something of a ‘training ground’ for future Grand National winners. Why? Because it is run over the same fences as its iconic bigger brother.
It is not as long or as gruelling as the Grand National; it is 1m 2f shorter with nine fewer fences, but since it is run in November or December, it is normal for horses to be faced with much softer ground than they will face in April. The Becher Chase is named after the legendary Becher’s Brook obstacle in the Grand National, which itself is named after Martin Becher, a famous jockey who won the National’s precursor, the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, in 1836.
In this guide, I will look at the brief history of the race and its connection with the Grand National, and then provide useful trends to help you narrow down the list of contenders.
History of the Becher Chase
The first winner of the Becher Chase was Kildimo in 1992. However, the horse did not go on to greater things and failed to place in the next six races before being retired. The following year’s winner, Indian Tonic, also never ran in the Grand National, but won a handicap chase at Aintree in April 1994.
The 1994 Becher Chase winner, Into the Red, was the first to have a semblance of success in the National, finishing fifth in 1995. He also won the 1996 Becher Chase. In 1997, Samlee won the race and finished third in the 1998 Grand National. Suddenly, the Becher Chase was proving to be a worthy race for prospective Grand National contenders.
Earth Summit was the horse that defeated Samlee and the rest of the field in the 1998 Grand National, and he went on to win the Becher Chase that year. Tragedy struck the 2000 winner, Young Kenny when he was put down after suffering a serious injury to a hind leg at Haydock Park in February 2001. He was considered one of the leading contenders for that year’s National.
The big breakthrough finally came in 2002 when Amberleigh Horse won the Grand National after winning the 2001 Becher Chase. Silver Birch won the 2004 race and eventually won the Grand National in 2007. To date, these are the only two horses to have first won the Becher before going on to win the Aintree Grand National. Earth Summit remains the only other horse to have won both races.
Even though only three horses have won both, the winner of the Becher Chase is automatically classified as a leading contender for the following year’s Grand National if the horse is entered. Blaklion won the Becher in 2017 and was near the top of the betting market at 14/1 to win the Grand National. Vieux Lion Rouge won the 2016 Becher and ran gamely in the major event the following year to finish sixth at odds of 12/1.
If nothing else, the winner of the Becher is worth close consideration, but which horse is likely to win this year’s renewal?
Becher Chase Trends
At the time of writing, there are 28 potential runners in a race that typically has anywhere between 15 and 25 runners. The 1998 and 2009 races had just eight runners! Ballyoptic has been installed as the 6/1 favourite. Blaklion is the second favourite at 7/1 with The Last Samuri next up at 10/1. The rest of the field is 14/1+.
Here are some trends to help cut the list of contenders:
- 15/21 winners were aged 9+, including 10 of the last 13 winners. However, the last two winners were aged 7yo and 8yo respectively.
- 15/21 winners carried 10-4 or more although two of the last winners carried just 10-0.
- 4/21 winners also won their previous race.
- 5/21 favourites have won the race, and there have been 10/21 winners from outside the top five in the betting market.
- However, only 5/21 winners did so at SP odds of 20/1+.
- 20/21 winners had run a race of at least 3 miles, and 18/21 winners had run in a race of at least 3m 5f.
A horse’s most recent race has some bearing on the outcome of the Becher Chase because 14/21 winners finished in the top 5 in their previous race. However, there have been five winners who were either Pulled Up or Unseated their rider in their last race. A more relevant statistic is that 9/12 winners had at least one season win.
Experience at Aintree is also a plus as 10/12 winners had raced at the course before. Another interesting stat is that 10/12 winners had at least five runs of at least three miles.
Although it is difficult to choose a potential winner, there are several interesting contenders at present. The classy Don Poli is a preliminary contender and is the top weighted horse. His last Aintree run was a second placed finish in a Grade 1 race back in 2016. Don Poli is currently available at 14/1; he was 25/1 when the initial 58-runner field was announced. However, he has not run since February 2017 when narrowly beaten by Sizing John, and may need to shake off some rust.
The 2016 Becher Chase winner, Vieux Lion Rouge, is another possible entry and has not run since his ninth placed finish in this year’s Grand National. Ultimately, punters must look closely at horses with a proven track record over the trip. The Becher Chase is a significant test of stamina in what is likely to be Good to Soft ground.
Although bottom-weighted horses tend to fare poorly, there have been a few ‘light’ winners in recent years. While it is not unusual for a big-priced winner to shock the world in this race, it is best to look at horses that are no higher than 25/1 at present.