Becher Chase 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips
Aintree's Becher Chase is a real crowd pleaser, run as it is over the Grand National fences. It has been a reasonable portent to that mile and a quarter longer race in recent times, with both Silver Birch and Amberleigh House taking the Becher en route to National glory.
Becher Chase 2015 Trends
Becher Chase last time out trends: Considering that seven of the eighteen winners since 1997 were priced 14/1 or bigger, it might be a surprise that only one horse who completed on its previous start finished worse than fifth that day. Top fivers won twelve from 158 (7.6% strike rate). Of the eight to fall or be brought down in their previous race, just one made the frame, none winning; but of those pulling up or unseating last time, there were five winners and four further places from just 34 runners (14.7%).
Those completing last time but with five or more in front of them have gone a collective 1 for 73, with just nine placed efforts to their names (12.3%). That compares to 42 top five last time out placers (26.6%) and ten last day non-completers to make the frame (23.8%).
I'd be prepared to forgive a horse that didn't finish on its previous run, but would be far more apprehensive about one that simply ran down the field.
Becher Chase Age trends: This is a solid test of stamina, so while it is possible for a young horse to prevail (Silver Birch was seven when he won in 2004), the percentage call is for older lags. Specifically, since 1997, five to seven year olds are 1 from 40 (2.5%), seven places (17.5%).
Those aged eight to ten are 13 from 183 (7.1%), 43 places (23.5%); and older horses still are 4 from 52 (7.7%), eleven places (21.2%).
The message here appears to be that it is reckless to dismiss older horses, but young ones must be very good to compete on this battle ground.
Becher Chase Weight trends: As is often the case with handicap weight stats, care is required. On the face of it, with half of the last 18 winners carrying 10-07 or less, one would be forgiven for thinking that's where to hang one's hat. However, closer inspection reveals that those nine winners came at a cost of 132 runners (7%).
That compares favourably with middle-weighted horses - those between 10-08 and 11-03 - who won just four times from 92 runners (4%). The small group of 51 horses to shoulder 11-04 or more claimed five prizes between them at a clip of 10%.
Looking at the place strike rates, a similar story emerges, with the bottom third of the weights placing 25% of the time, the middle third hitting the frame just 15% of the time, and the top third yielding a 1-2-3 dividend 27% of the time.
Summary: Don't be afraid to back a highly weighted horse, all other things being equal.
Becher Chase Miscellany: Those with two or more wins over further than the 3m2f Becher trip have won six times from just 24 starters (25%) since 1997, and placed another three times (37.5%) for a healthy win and each way profit.
Becher Chase Trainer trends: Paul Nicholls has saddled three winners and six more placers from 23 runners since 1997. Nigel Twiston-Davies also has three wins in that time, from 19 runners, and one further place; while the late Dessie Hughes legged up two winners and a place from just five runners. His daughter, Sandra, runs Irish National winner, Thunder And Roses.
On balance, it looks prudent to favour a mature horse with guaranteed stamina, and either a touch of class or a light weight. The likes of Goonyella and Portrait King look to fit the loose bill.
Becher Chase Form Preview
It's 8/1 the field, and might be close to 10/1 your pick on the morning of the race. Of course, by off time, the overround will be MUCH higher, so the message has to be take a price best odds guaranteed if you are still able to.
The Irish-trained pair of Goonyella and Thunder And Roses lead the market, and both have solid form credentials despite no Irish horse making the frame since One Cool Cookie (25/1) in 2010. The year before, Vic Venturi was the last Irish winner of the Becher for the aforementioned much missed Dessie Hughes.
Daughter Sandra is making a good fist of her fledgling training career, having already brought the (Fairy)house down when winning the Irish National on Easter Monday this year. That success, a big-priced winner flagged here, was achieved by Thunder And Roses, who was given an absolutely brilliant ride by Katie Walsh. Gigginstown retained jockey, Bryan Cooper, takes over and he's yet to be out of the first two in four starts with this son of Presenting.
Thunder And Roses is a horse with some potential and looks a strong stayer but I just wonder whether this might be a sighter for April. If that's the case, it wouldn't do to horlicks the handicap mark in the rehearsal!
Goonyella has already cut his handicap cloth - he's rated 150 after taking the Midlands National in March and running second in the Scottish National a month later - so may as well try his damnedest to win this before pleading for leniency from the official handicapper Phil Smith's discretionary Grand National allocations. (Not that they won't all be trying their damnedest, you understand. Ahem).
There's little doubt as to what Goony's target will be this season and this second attempt at the Becher (unseated at the first last year) looks sure to be more fruitful than the first. How much more is the million dollar question. The answer looks to be considerably more: assuming he jumps round he will have no issue with the trip or the ground, and he had a lovely pipe opener over hurdles a month ago.
The first British-trained name in the betting lists is Algernon Pazham. Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, whose record in this race is impeccable, the data implies that asking a six year old to tackle this challenge is a big request. Whilst I imagine he probably has the stamina for the job, and some upside potential in terms of form profile, I'm not sure he's quite classy enough. At the prices, it's a no from me, as those upstanding bastions of the community on X Factor might say.
Something of an Aintree legend, Saint Are looks very likely to run a bold race. Winner of a Grade 1 hurdle at the Aintree Festival in 2011, he's since won a Listed handicap chase at the track, ran third in this race last year and then ran second in the National itself earlier this year. The niggle is the ground. Saint Are used to be suited by a sound surface but, as his stamina has stretched out, perhaps that is less of an issue now. If he gets through it, and if the handicapping penalties of those excellent runs haven't taken their toll, he must go close.
I can't have Unioniste, classy though he is on his day. Trip and ground are in his favour but he has to lug eight pounds more than any other horse and, in such a stamina test, I don't expect him to be able to do that. [Cue facile win!]
Pineau De Re won the Grand National as an eleven year old in 2014, and he ran a big race again this year off an eight pound higher rating. Second in a veterans' chase last time he can't be written off - very few can - but nor is he especially appetizing at 10/1.
Soll had rather lost his way since finishing seventh in the 2013 Grand National, but a change of stable saw him notch back-to-back wins earlier this year. Both were at around this trip, and Soll also finished ninth in this year's National. Although he should improve for his seasonal debut, especially with the Pipe yard going better now, he still looks a bit high in the weights to scalp a race of this nature.
This trip looks a minimum for Irish raider, Vics Canvas, who is another higher in the handicap than ideal. A nice completion here, beaten far enough, should knock a couple of pounds off his April return visit rating, for which connections will be performing a rain dance. Not this time, thank you.
The form of the Sue Smith team demands No Planning gets a second glance, the more so when one notes that La Smith has had four placed horses in the Becher Chase from eleven runners since 1997, including 2002 winner, Ardent Scout. No Planning has been in the frame in twelve of eighteen chase starts, winning five of them. This trip might just stretch his stamina but, with the yard in barnstorming form, he's a noteworthy contender.
Dolatulo represents another in-form team (Greatrex/Sheehan). The form of his Rowland Meyrick Chase win of Boxing Day last year gives him a squeak, and he's a year more mature now. But recent efforts ask punters to make a leap of faith and, again, there may be others better handicapped.
One such is Portrait King, who was still going with the leading group when coming to grief three out in this year's National. A stamina test - perhaps more of a stamina test than this, in truth - is what he relishes, on sodden turf. He's actually dropped eight pounds since then and, though one has to overlook a pulled up effort last time, his overall profile - and odds of 16/1 - is more appealing than many. Indeed, keep in mind that those who pulled up last time have won four times since 2006.
Another potentially well handicapped is Highland Lodge, who has plummeted down the weights. Rated as high as 143 two years ago, he gets in here off a mark of 125, mainly by dint of a series of 'gone at the game' efforts. But his most recent run was his best in two years, and he's since moved to Jimmy Moffatt's stable. If a change of scenery has brought about any deeper affection for his profession, he could go better than a 25/1 chance. If...
Finally, though I'd worry about him having the class for this, Financial Climate might be worth a small speculative at a big price. 33/1 is his general quote which perhaps doesn't quite take account of his stable's form, or his ability to handle conditions. Trainer Oliver Sherwood has saddled five winners from 17 runners in the last two weeks, and Tom Garner has ridden three of them, from just five mounts.
The eight year old may have needed his first run of the season when well enough beaten last time, and if he strips fitter for that he has a featherweight, albeit five pounds out of the handicap proper allowing for jockey claim.
Becher Chase Tips
It's a wide open renewal of the Becher, and finding a winner looks a devil of a job. In the circumstances, I think I want some jam on my bread. One that looks potentially well treated on National form is Portrait King and 16/1 offers a scintilla of value.
At the top end of the market, Goonyella ought to run his race though I'm not sure whether the big weight will anchor him late in the play. I'll take a small piece of him at the best prevailing morning odds, which are likely to be a shade bigger than the current 7/1.
No Planning is another I can't resist a morsel on win and place for an on fire yard.
1.5 pts staked in a race where interest trumps edge. If one of this trio wins, we will have been lucky as well as good, because there are very few in the field without a chance!
0.5 pt win Goonyella 7/1 general (or best morning price)
0.25 pt e/w Portrait King 16/1 general (or best morning price)
0.25 pt e/w No Planning 14/1 general (or best morning price)
And remember, take best early price in the 'village', best odds guaranteed if you can. The early prices will certainly offer more value than starting prices.