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Robert Walford calls time with Becher Chase hero Walk In The Mill

Walk In The Mill, a dual winner of the Becher Chase, has been retired after pulling up at Warwick earlier this month.

The 11-year-old was never happy at any stage of the Classic Chase and jockey James Best called a halt after the 12th obstacle.

Before that disappointing effort, Walk In The Mill had fallen at the Chair at Aintree in early December as he failed in his bid to win the Becher for the third year running.

After those two performances, his trainer Robert Walford felt the time was right to call it a day with his stable stalwart, who also covered himself in glory when fourth in the 2019 Grand National.

“He’s absolutely fine. He just didn’t really want to know at Warwick. He wasn’t interested in racing,” said the Dorset handler.

“He’s been an amazing horse for us. He’s done more than we could ever have dreamt of.

“At some point something stops them racing and he didn’t want to go, so that’s that.

“He’s been a good lad. He’s going back to his owner (Baroness Harding) to spend his retirement.”

Walk In The Mill won six of his 30 races and amassed over £307,000 in prize money.

Walk In The Mill seeking Aintree history in Becher Chase

Trainer Robert Walford is wary of the extra weight Walk In The Mill must carry as he bids for his own piece of Aintree history with a third successive win in the William Hill Becher Chase.

Two other horses have won the race twice, Into The Red and Hello Bud, but even they did not manage to win it back-to-back as Walk In The Mill has.

His task is distinctly harder this time around from a mark 12lb higher than his first win, and he is rising 11, but he showed up well for a long way on his comeback at Ascot to suggest all his ability remains.

“He’s in really good form but he’s obviously got more weight than he’s had in previous years. We’re hopeful of a good run,” said Dorset handler Walford.

“He always needs his first run of the year really. I was quite happy with the way he ran at Ascot. I thought he ran quite nicely.”

Ben Pauling is hoping Le Breuil can build on his solid first attempt over the Grand National fences 12 months ago when he has his second crack at the race this weekend.

Winner of the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019, Le Breuil ran better than his seventh place would suggest.

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“He’s in great order with himself. He ran well in the race last year, so I’m expecting another big run from him this year,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“He obviously loved the fences last year. Hopefully he’s in as good a form as I can have him going into the race.

“It was nice to see him in the form of old up at Kelso. We look forward to a big run on Saturday.”

Last year’s runner-up Kimberlite Candy has also risen in the weights, but his trainer Tom Lacey believes the eight-year-old can handle that now.

Kimberlite Candy on his way to winning the Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick
Kimberlite Candy on his way to winning the Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick (Steven Paston/PA)

“He does have a lot more weight to carry than last year, when he was second, but he is another year stronger,” he said.

“He’s been a late-maturing horse all the way through his life, and I think he’s the finished article now – so I can’t wait.

“He ran an absolute belter in the race last year and he is going back having run a career-best in the Classic Chase at Warwick last time out.”

Alex Hales cannot wait to pitch Smooth Stepper over the Aintree fences. The 11-year-old won the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February, and shaped well on his comeback run at Sandown four weeks ago.

“It’s a race I’ve always wanted to run him in, and I thought he ran very well in his prep race at Sandown on unsuitable ground,” he said.

“He comes here, and it looks like the ground is going to be in his favour.

“I thought he proved at Sandown he could be competitive off his new handicap mark – and he’s in very good order.

“I’m looking forward to it. He looks an ideal type for the race.”

Vieux Lion Rouge, the winner in 2016, makes his fifth consecutive appearance in the three-and-a-quarter-mile contest and is one of two runners from the David Pipe stable.

“He ran well the other day. It was a pipe opener for this and he qualified for the veterans’ final as well so it served its purpose – he’s come on a lot from there,” Pipe said in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“He’s working as well up the gallops now as he was three years ago. He has dropped down the weights but he lights up for this occasion, and he’s not without a shout.”

Pipe has a second string to his bow in Ramses De Teillee, who put up a gutsy display to land a narrow victory at Cheltenham last time.

Ramses de Teillee (left) tries the Grand National fences for a second time when he lines-up for the Becher Chase
Ramses de Teillee (left) tries the Grand National fences for a second time when he lines up for the Becher Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He’s a better horse on softer ground and he should get that on Saturday,” said the Nicolashayne trainer.

“He’s going back to Aintree for a second time – which can be a thing. A lot of jockeys and trainers will tell you most horses will do something well once, it’s the second time you have to be wary.

“Hopefully, because of the softer ground, they won’t go as quick, and he’ll be in his comfort zone.”

Walk In The Mill on course to bid for Becher hat-trick

Walk In The Mill, winner of the Becher Handicap Chase for the last two years, is among 17 contenders at the five-day stage for the three-and-a-quarter-mile contest over the Grand National fences at Aintree.

As in the two previous seasons, Robert Walford’s 10-year-old heads to Merseyside on Saturday with the benefit of a run this autumn.

Vieux Lion Rouge is another previous winner of the race, sponsored by William Hill this year, having struck in 2016. His trainer David Pipe also has recent Cheltenham winner Ramses De Teillee under consideration.

Kimberlite Candy, who took the runner-up spot last December, could try to go one better. The Tom Lacey-trained eight-year-old has not raced since winning the Classic Chase at Warwick in January.

Paul Nicholls is two-handed with top-weight Yala Enki and Give Me A Copper, who has been off the track for almost 12 months.

Other possibles include 2019 Eider Chase victor Crosspark and 2018 Scottish National hero Joe Farrell, while Jessica Harrington’s Jett is the sole Irish challenger in the mix.

Venetia Williams has left Aso in both the Becher and Grand Sefton Handicap Chase – for which 23 horses remain.

Modus, successful over the Mildmay fences at Aintree this autumn, represents the Nicholls team along with Sametegal.

Lord Du Mesnil, runner-up in Haydock’s Grand National Trial in February, is set to return to the Merseyside area following a recent spin over hurdles at Kelso.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Might Bite, second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018, could have his first try at the National fences.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has left in Crievehill and Flying Angel, while Dr Richard Newland is double-handed with Beau Bay and Caid Du Lin – and Wetherby Listed winner Huntsman Son and Springtown Lake are among other interesting contenders.

Santini, runner-up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, could make his seasonal reappearance in the Many Clouds Chase.

The Henderson-trained eight-year-old is one of eight entries for the Grade Two heat over an extended three miles.

His rivals could include last year’s winner Native River, previously a Cheltenham Gold Cup hero for Colin Tizzard in 2018.

Frodon, from the Nicholls stable, is another familiar name in the list following his tremendous weight-carrying performance in a handicap chase at Cheltenham.