Walk In The Mill (Robert Walford/James Best) will attempt to create history on Saturday, 5 December, when he bids to become the first three-time winner of the £120,000 G3 William Hill Becher Handicap Chase (1.30pm, 15 runners, 3m 1f 188y, 21 fences) over the famous Grand National fences at Aintree.
The 10-year-old scored by four and a half lengths from the re-opposing Vieux Lion Rouge (David Pipe/Conor O’Farrell) in 2018 while last year he came home two and a half lengths clear of the J P McManus-owned Kimberlite Candy (Tom Lacey/Richie McLernon), who also lines up again this year.
Walk In The Mill again demonstrated his liking for Aintree with a fine fourth behind the great Tiger Roll in the 2019 Randox Health Grand National. He is the 5/1 joint-favourite with William Hill alongside Le Breuil (Ben Pauling/Kielan Woods), winner of the G2 National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in 2019.
Vieux Lion Rouge won the 2016 Becher Chase and has run over the Grand National course eight times – jumping an amazing total of 202 Grand National fences in total. In the modern era, only 2004 Grand National hero Amberleigh House has jumped more of the famous obstacles, clearing 244 fences between 2001 and 2006.
On Saturday, Somerset-based Pipe will also be represented by Ramses de Teillee (Tom Scudamore). The eight-year-old disappointed on his only previous visit to Aintree in the 2019 Randox Health Grand National but has been in fine form so far this season, finishing fifth in the G1 Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil in France in October before winning the G3 Planteur At Chapel Stud Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on 15 November, when he came home a short-head to the good over Yala Enki (Paul Nicholls/Bryony Frost). Yala Enki won the G3 Grand National Trial at Haydock Park in 2018 and carries top-weight of 11st 12lb in Saturday’s contest.
Speaking in a call hosted by Great British Racing, David Pipe said: "Vieux Lion Rouge has jumped more Grand National fences than any other horse around at the moment - 202. He has run in four Grand Nationals and four Becher Chases. He jumps those fences better than usual fences. He is not getting any younger, but he is in great form at home. For both my horses, the more rain the better.
“Vieux Lion Rouge ran well at Aintree on his reappearance. It was a pipe-opener for this race and it got him qualified for the veterans’ final. It served its purpose, and he has come on a lot for that run. He is working as well on the gallops as he was three years ago. He has dropped in the ratings, but he lights up to the occasion there. He will love the people that will be there, he knows when he arrives at Aintree, he knows it is a big occasion. Vieux Lion Rouge knows the paddock and when he sees the first fence, he will know what it is all about again.
“I don’t know why that is the case, but he loves the fences there and his track record shows you that. We have had Vieux Lion Rouge since a four-year-old and he has been a real stalwart.
“Tom Scudamore will ride Ramses de Teillee who put up a great performance at Cheltenham the other day. Ramses de Teillee has also been with us since he was a four-year-old. He has always been a good horse and loves soft ground. He travelled extremely well at Cheltenham the other day and showed a good attitude to win. He has come out of that race in good form. He ran in the Grand National last year. It does say he didn’t complete. However, at the Canal Turn the second time, he made a bad mistake and one of his reins broke. He did finish the race on one rein, but they said he didn’t complete, but he did.
“We had a discussion with his owners about coming here or the Welsh National. He made mistakes at the third and fourth fence in last year’s Grand National, but he jumped well in the main and we think it warrants having another go. He is a better horse on softer ground, and he will get that at Aintree on Saturday.
“There are lots of decent horses in there. Going back to Aintree a second time, some horses like it or some remember and don’t like it as much as others. I think Ramses de Teillee will take to it again. He is in great form and if he does take to it, then he must be in with a great chance.
“Because of the softer ground, they won’t go as quick so hopefully he can get in his comfort zone and jump well. He doesn’t need soft ground, but probably over this trip and with soft ground it will definitely help him. He is a classy horse and a strong traveller. He had some good form over hurdles, so we are hopeful. Ramses de Teillee is one of the most versatile horses we have. I said to his owners at the start of the season that he is high in the handicap over both hurdles and fences. It is going to be a difficult season, but we have to pick up as much prize money as we can. That’s why we went over to France to pick up some prize money and then it went well at Cheltenham. Tom Scudamore has chosen him and we are hopeful of a good run on Saturday. He has form on better ground too and good to soft ground on Saturday will be fine for him.
“Walk In The Mill beat Vieux Lion Rouge two years ago and looks to have a good chance as does Kimberlite Candy for JP McManus. It is a wide-open handicap."
Aintree is in a Tier 2 area of COVID-19 restrictions, meaning it will be able to welcome a limited number of racegoers on Saturday and Pipe went on to express his gratitude to everyone involved.
The trainer continued: “It is fantastic for the sport which has worked very hard to get crowds back on the racecourse. All of the different parties have worked together and look what we have achieved - we did a fantastic job. Everyone has worked extremely hard and should be praised highly for it.
“We love Aintree - everyone does. You arrive there on Becher or Grand National day and there is a buzz. For a jockey to ride over the Grand National fences they get a massive thrill.”
William Hill Becher Chase, William Hill odds:
5 Places @ 1/5 odds (subject to minimum runner stipulation)
5/1 Le Breuil, Walk In The Mill
11/2 Kimberlite Candy
8/1 Ramses de Teillee
9/1 Yala Enki
11/1 Calett Mad, Give Me A Copper, Coo Star Sivola
16/1 Vieux Lion Rouge
18/1 Smooth Stepper
20/1 Aso, Joe Farrell
28/1 Calipso Collonges
Might Bite debuts over Grand National fences in William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase
Also taking place over the Grand National fences on Becher Chase Day is the £64,000 Grand Sefton Handicap Chase (3.15pm, 2m 5f 19y, 19 runners, 18 fences).
This contest will see Might Bite (Nicky Henderson/Jerry McGrath) make his debut over the Grand National fences. The 11-year-old is a four-time G1 winner, including twice over the Mildmay Course at Aintree, and was also runner-up in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He returned to action when finishing fifth in a G3 handicap chase at Ascot on 31 October.
Trainer Nicky Henderson, also speaking on a call hosted by Great British Racing, said: “Might Bite was wonderful in 2017 and 2018. He won the RSA Chase via the car park and then went to Aintree and put up a spectacular performance. He came back the next year and was second in the Gold Cup, but after that things have not been easy.
“He lost his extra something special. His jumping used to be spectacular, but he was not as accurate and lost that. We went cross country racing and he loved it. His race at Ascot the other day, we and a lot of other people thought we saw serious glimpses of the old Might Bite. He was bowling along in front, taking them along at a good gallop and jumping for fun. A bit of fitness was all that caught him out.
“Nico (de Boinville, jockey) has always said that he should come back in trip. He can’t ride him on Saturday, but he knows him backwards. His biggest weapon is his jumping.
“The Jockey Club Estates have some Grand National fences which we went and used on Thursday last week and he was a joy to watch. Might Bite loved it and I think he will love this race and the fences. Where it leads us next, I am not sure. We are going cross country racing, but I just thought with the trip being good and the fences being good for him, I am looking forward to it.
“We are obstinate and determined people. If you knew the ability was there, you have this hope of getting it back. I think you go back to Sprinter Sacre where sometimes it can happen, and you can get them back. Might Bite is thoroughly enjoying life and if it gives the horse pleasure, it gives me pleasure.
“The owners [The Knot Again Partnership] are a great bunch of mates and there is divided opinion over this! We agreed this is what we’re going to do in the end and if he loved it on Saturday, the Grand National could be a plan. It would have to be up for discussion and I may well be outvoted.”
Might Bite is a 14/1 chance with William Hill. Huntsman Son (Alex Hales/Kielan Woods) tops the market at 5/1 with the sponsor following his impressive return to action in a Listed contest at Wetherby on 30 October.
William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, William Hill odds:
5 Places @ 1/5 odds (subject to minimum runner stipulation)
5/1 Huntsman Son
15/2 Lord du Mesnil
17/2 Senior Citizen
9/1 Springtown Lake
14/1 Flying Angel, Dingo Dollar, Might Bite
16/1 Didero Vallis
18/1 Caid du Lin, Touch Kick
22/1 Swift Crusador, Beau Bay, Pink Eyed Pedro
28/1 Amalfi Doug, Sir Jack Yeats
Native River, Frodon & Santini line up in fascinating William Hill Many Clouds Chase
The seven-race programme at Aintree on Saturday also includes a fascinating renewal of the £50,000 G2 William Hill Many Clouds Chase (2.40pm, 5 runners, 3m 210y) over the Mildmay Course.
The 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River (Colin Tizzard/Richard Johnson) won this contest in 2019 and lines up once again. His four rivals include 2019 G1 Ryanair Chase victor Frodon (Paul Nicholls/Bryony Frost), who looked as good as ever when defying top-weight in a competitive handicap chase at Cheltenham in October, and Santini (Nicky Henderson/Jerry McGrath), who will be making his first appearance since finishing the neck second to Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Nicky Henderson said: “Santini schooled on Tuesday and goes to Aintree for the Many Clouds. He takes an awful lot of getting ready as he takes a huge amount of work. I have a few reservations. I don’t think Aintree is the greatest track for him. He is a big horse who loves to gallop and gallop.
“He loves jumping and you cannot do enough work with him. Nico has always wanted to school him, but he can’t ride him as he is at Sandown. Jerry McGrath will ride him on Saturday and therefore schooled him. It was actually the first time this year that we put the cheekpieces on him at home and they made a big difference - it really does sharpen him up.
“It is a good race with a competitive field. His first run last year was not awe inspiring at Sandown then he won the Cotswold and was second in the Gold Cup.
"That is a different ball game round Cheltenham compared to three miles at Aintree. There is nowhere else, he wasn’t ready for Haydock and I don’t think that would have been any better for him anyway. This is a good, competitive race as it should be. It will be a very interesting race.
“Jerry McGrath had a good Saturday at Newbury with Floressa winning the Gerry Feilden and Beware The Bear finishing fifth in the Ladbrokes Trophy. Jerry is a great guy. He has been with us a long time. He is a great horseman. The owners said they would have Jerry straight away as did the Might Bite team who he rides in the Grand Sefton. It is a big ride for him, but I have every confidence in him. He is riding two horses he knows well - they are the sort of horses that most of us would like to ride.”
William Hill Many Clouds Chase, William Hill odds:
5 Places @ 1/5 odds
9/4 Native River
16/1 Lake View Lad
66/1 Keeper Hill
The programme at Aintree runs from 11.45am to 3.15pm.
GRAND NATIONAL COURSE
Soft (GoingStick:4.0 at 7:45am today)
Chase Course - Good to Soft, Soft in places (GoingStick 5.5 at 7.45am today)
Hurdle Course - Soft, Good to Soft in places (GoingStick 4.8 at 7.45am today)
There was two millimetres of rain on Monday. Tuesday was dry with Wednesday bringing another 2.4 millimetres of rain.
The outlook is for unsettled conditions, with up to three millimetres of rain possible by the end of today and up to five millimetres possible on Friday.
Saturday is predicted to be largely cloudy, with the chance of some brighter spells later in the day and possible showers.