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Paul Ferguson: Three eye-catchers from Becher Chase weekend

Chacun Pour Soi returned in impressive style at Cork on Sunday.
Chacun Pour Soi returned in impressive style at Cork on Sunday.

Paul Ferguson reviews this weekend's action at Sandown, Aintree and Cork, and picks out three horses to note, including a horse who he thinks could be worth backing for next year's Grand National...

LE BREUIL (Ben Pauling)

I was at Aintree on Saturday, where the feature was the Becher Chase, a race won by Vieux Lion Rouge, who had won the contest in 2016 as a seven-year-old. Although beaten 28¾ lengths, the one to take forward with one eye on the Grand National is Le Breuil, who jumped really well until making a serious error four out. Prominent throughout, his only semblance of an earlier mistake came at the Canal Turn (slightly slow over it, rather than a genuine error) and Kielan Woods did extremely well to maintain the partnership at that fourth last. To his credit, Le Breuil regained the lead on the turn for home, after which he tired once headed by the winner, two out, and it is hard to think that he wouldn’t have gone very close but for that shuddering error.

In terms of looking ahead to April, it is likely that he will need to get his mark up by a couple pounds to ensure a run (bottom weight in the past five years ran off marks of 142, 142, 143, 139 and 138) so he could head to Warwick for the Classic Chase in the New Year, a race in which he finished only fifth last year. A former National Hunt Chase winner, he should be capable of staying the ‘National’ trip on slightly better ground, and with Ben Pauling’s horses in better form throughout this season, 40-1 seems more than fair, given that he also jumped really well when fading into seventh in this race last year.

Grand National
Le Breuil silk

Le Breuil

ALLMANKIND (Dan Skelton) / HITMAN (Paul Nicholls)

Down at Sandown, the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase looked a fairly strong renewal on paper (the five runners were unbeaten in eight chase starts between them) and the finish was dominated by two of the four-year-olds in the line-up, Allmankind and Hitman. The former made all – as he had done on debut when beating Zanza (won a handicap off 138 next time) – and after skipping clear after the final one of the Railway fences, he never really looked like being pegged back. Whether he will be able to dominate an Arkle field in this manner is another question, but he will head back to Warwick for the Kingmaker next, after which Aintree’s Maghull Novices’ Chase would appeal as a much more suitable target.

It is worth remembering that no five-year-old has won the Arkle or the Maghull since the age-allowance for each race was removed; Voy Por Ustedes (2006) was the last Arkle winner for that age group, whilst Twist Magic was the last five-year-old winner of the Maghull, the following season. Things will, therefore, be tougher come the spring.

As for the runner-up Hitman, he could well be the better long-term prospect. Having looked useful in just three starts over hurdles in France, he had created a favourable impression on his chasing debut at Ffos Las, and again ran well in defeat here. He shapes like a horse who will improve as he goes up in trip, and Paul Nicholls did indeed suggest that he might return to Sandown for the Scilly Isles in early-February, a race which has been won by three five-year-olds in the past six years. In fact, the only five-year-old (still receive a 3lbs allowance at this stage) to be beaten in that race in the past eight years is Clan des Obeaux. Come the spring, he might also be one for Aintree rather than Cheltenham, with the Manifesto Novices’ Chase a likely long-term option.

Grand National Tips

CHACUN POUR SOI (Willie Mullins)

If we did see a Cheltenham Festival winner this weekend, the most likely candidate would be Chacun Pour Soi, who made a winning return to action in Cork’s Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase on Sunday. Willie Mullins’ lightly-raced eight-year-old was beaten on his seasonal reappearance last season, so he can be expected to improve in terms of fitness (Mullins has also had a couple of horses looking in need of the run on return lately, too) and he did all what could be expected of him on this occasion.

Quite whether his victory warranted him being shortened for in the market for the Queen Mother Champion Chase is another matter, but that is probably as much to do with a lack of depth in the two-mile chase division at present. Last season’s Champion Chase winner Politologue also made a winning return this weekend, of course, when successful in the Tingle Creek, a race which will be remembered for the absence of Altior, as much as anything else.

I would expect to see Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown over Christmas, then in the Dublin Chase over the same course-and-distance in early-February, and as things stand, he is a worthy market leader – in my opinion – for the Queen Mother.

Grand National Odds
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