Race Histories 12: The Becher Chase

Hello Bud - age no barrier in the Becher

Hello Bud - age no barrier in the Becher

The Grand National fences have their first test of the season on Saturday, when the Becher chase is run over 3 miles 2 furlongs at Aintree. The race starts immediately after Valentines Brook, so is just shy of one and a half circuits of the National Course.

The race is a fairly new one, introduced in 1992, when Aintree gained an extra meeting, and has become a recognised trial for the big race itself, although only two horses, Amberleigh House and Silver Birch have taken the Becher and the National in the same season.

It’s no great surprise to see older horses winning long distance chases; they have greater experience and often better reserves of stamina than their younger rivals. But it is unusual to find a specific race won so often by senior horses. That’s the position with the Becher, however. Kildimo was a 12 year old when he started the trend in the first heat, back in 1992. Sue Smith trained him, and she handled another veteran winner in 2002 with ten-year-old Ardent Scout.

Top trainer, though, is Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has trained the winner of an astonishing 24% of the renewals (5 out of 21). He started in the second year of the race, with Indian Tonic. At seven he is the youngest winner, along with Silver Birch in 2004. His other winners have been with progressively older horses.

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Young Hustler, in 1995, was eight. He too has his place in the Becher records; with 12 stone to carry, two pounds more than any horse will carry on Saturday, he and another Twiston-Davies star, Earth Summit (1998), and Young Kenny (2000), have carried more weight than any other horse. All of those were top weight in their race.

Hello Bud confirmed the Naunton trainer as the go to man in the Becher with two victories in the last three years, when 12 and then last December at the age of 14. That was an absolutely thrilling race, with the old boy hanging on to beat Paul Nicholls’ Join Together, a horse half his age, by a neck.

Hello Bud was retired after that race, but Twiston-Davies has another old-timer down for Saturday. If he pulls off another win with 13-year-old Baby Run it will rank as one of the training performances of the season. Baby Run hasn’t set foot on a racecourse since a third placed finish in the bet365 Gold Cup in April 2011. That’s 959 days since he last ran, and even for a maestro who has more chase winners than most after a long absence that is a big ask.

He has, though, got form. Just a couple of weeks before the race at Sandown, he had won the John Smith’s Foxhunters Chase over the National fences. And while plenty of his potential rivals have tackled the National fences, none of them has won over them.

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