Ante-post favourite Ballyoptic is among 28 five-day confirmations for the £150,000 Becher Handicap Chase, run over the famous Grand National fences at Aintree this Saturday, December 8, Becher Chase Day.
Ballyoptic (11st 7lb) has yet to race this season and was last seen out when just touched off in the G3 Scottish Grand National over four miles at Ayr in April. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, the most successful handler in the Becher Handicap Chase with six victories, could also run last year’s nine-length winner Blaklion (11st 10lb), Go Conquer (10st 13lb) and Calett Mad (10st 6lb).
Twiston-Davies commented: “Ballyoptic is set to run in the Becher Chase at Aintree on Saturday.
“We could have run in the Ladbrokes Trophy, but we would like to get some experience over the Grand National fences into him as hopefully he could be a horse for the Randox Health Grand National.
“He ran a fine race in the Scottish Grand National last time and seemed to stay the trip very well.
“He is a smart horse and if we can get him jumping slickly, then we would be hopeful of a good run.
“The Becher looks a good place to start and we’re looking forward to it."
Top-weight Don Poli (11st 12lb) is one of eight Irish-trained contenders going forward. A multiple G1 winner for Willie Mullins, the nine-year-old has been restricted to just three starts since joining Gordon Elliott in the autumn of 2016, the latest of which saw him finish a close third in the G1 Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February, 2017.
Elliott, who landed his second Randox Health Grand National in April with Tiger Roll, has also left in Irish Grand National hero General Principle (10st 10lb), impressive Thyestes Handicap Chase victor Monbeg Notorious (11st 3lb) and Noble Endeavor (11st 4lb), who has been off the track for 600 days.
The Irish contingent is bolstered further by Crosshue Boy (Sean Doyle, 10st 10lb), who landed a valuable novices’ handicap chase at Ayr in the spring, and the Ross O’Sullivan-trained Call It Magic (10st 1lb).
Cheltenham Festival scorer Missed Approach (10st 12lb) is in line for his first start over the Grand National fences. The eight-year-old gained the biggest victory of his career when narrowly repelling Mall Dini in the three and a quarter-mile Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in March.
Missed Approach has also been left in the other race over the Grand National fences on December 8, the £80,000 Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
Trainer Warren Greatrex said today: “As long as the ground isn’t heavy, Missed Approach will go in the Becher Handicap Chase.
“I spoke to Andrew Tulloch [Regional Head of Racing and Clerk of the Course at Aintree] and he says the ground will be soft, but if it came up heavy, I would be a bit cautious and might switch him to the Grand Sefton.
“I am very happy with Missed Approach. He has had a good break and runs well fresh.
“He is going to have a school over the Grand National fences in Lambourn tomorrow.
“We will finalise jockey plans later in the week.”
Greatrex’s other Becher Handicap Chase entry, Theatre Territory, is 2lb out of the handicap on 9st 12lb.
Ultragold (11st) could bid to give Colin Tizzard another big Saturday winner. Ultragold has captured the last two renewals of the Randox Health Topham Chase over the Grand National fences, including at odds of 50/1 in 2017.
Paul Nicholls has left in recent Badger Ales Trophy scorer Present Man (11st 3lb) and Sky Bet Chase runner-up Warriors Tale (10st 13lb). Nicholls has trained three winners of the Becher Handicap Chase.
Others to note include Vieux Lion Rouge (David Pipe, 10st 12lb) and Highland Lodge (James Moffatt, 10st 1lb), winners of the Becher Handicap Chase in 2016 and 2015 respectively, plus recent Cheltenham scorer Rock The Kasbah (Philip Hobbs, 11st 5lb) and 2016 Grand National second The Last Samuri (Harry Fry, 11st 9lb).
19 left in Grand Sefton Handicap Chase
Present Man (11st 12lb) and Warriors Tale (11st 8lb) are also among 19 remaining five-day entries for the £80,000 Grand Sefton Handicap Chase.
Born Survivor (Dan Skelton, 11st 4lb) is vying for favouritism with Crievehill (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 11st 7lb) after gaining a decisive victory in a Listed handicap chase at Wetherby on November 2.
Crievehill has not finished out of the first two in his last four starts over fences and was last seen out when second in a two and a half-mile handicap chase at Uttoxeter on September 23.
Randox Health Topham Chase runner-up Shanahan’s Turn (Colin Tizzard, 10st 10lb) and Captain Redbeard (Stuart Coltherd, 11st 5lb) also remain engaged.
Elsewhere on the card, the 2017 Randox Health Grand National hero One For Arthur is one of 13 entries for the £60,000 G2 Rewards4Racing Many Clouds Chase (2.05pm) over three miles and a furlong on the Mildmay Course.
Trained in Scotland by Lucinda Russell, One For Arthur has not raced since that famous triumph after sustaining a tendon injury.
Definitly Red (Brian Ellison) is set to bid for back-to-back victories in the Rewards4Racing Many Clouds Chase, having started the campaign with a two-length victory in the G2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on November 3.
Last season’s G1 32Red King George VI Chase second Double Shuffle (Tom George), who fell at the first in the Charlie Hall Chase, has also been entered.
The going at Aintree is currently Good to Soft, Soft in places on the Grand National course and Good to Soft on the Mildmay course. Rain is forecast later in the week.
Becher Chase Day will include a parade of horses who have won or run well over the Grand National fences.
Those parading are as follows:
Always Waining (Topham Handicap Chase winner 2010, 2011, 2012)
Cassia Heights (Topham Handicap Chase winner 2004)
Chance Du Roy (Becher Handicap Chase winner 2013)
Dunbrody Millar (Topham Handicap Chase winner 2007)
Saint Are (Third in the 2014 Becher Handicap Chase & runner-up in the 2015 Grand National & third in the 2017 Grand National)
Scots Grey (Foxhunters’ Chase winner 2007)