The Becher has come around again, a race that seems to herald in jump racing’s Christmas season.
This frightfully competitive three-and-a-quarter-mile chase is worth £150,000, with £84,000 of that going to the winner.
23 runners go this time over the Grand National fences in a race we won last year with Snow Leopardess, the mare making the shortlist once again.
Dan Skelton’s runner has been the subject of money this week, challenging for favouritism going into the weekend.
There’s no doubting his form either. In the Towton at Wetherby in February, he finished 1½ lengths behind subsequent Grand National winner Noble Yeats and 7 lengths behind the now 161 rated Ahoy Senor – remember, he gets in off only 138 here.
He began this season with a spin over hurdles which went well enough and there is clearly more to come.
Only an eight-year-old, Enqarde is one of those horses who at first glance you think is still moving up the ladder and can produce a new career high. His Tommy Whittle win last winter was an easy one and his last chase start in April was decent as well.
The negatives are that he has run plenty of times and in fact may not now improve. He also went over hurdles last time and didn’t run well at all, meaning there have to be doubts about his current form.
If it is rekindled over these fences however, he can play a part.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner is too big a price in the race and holds some each-way value at least.
He’s only seven races into his chasing career and there is no way we’ve seen the best of him yet, something we should very much keep in mind.
He has already shown toughness though. His chase debut win at Lingfield was over three miles, he was third to L’Homme Presse and ahead of Oscar Elite in the Dipper at Cheltenham, he was impressive in winning over three miles back at Lingfield again and was just 11/1 for the Scottish Grand National.
He’s a stayer, an improving one, and he has a big chance. The ground was too quick on his seasonal return, which has at least got him fit, but he was favourite once again for that race which should be noted.
Five Star Getaway
A four-time chase winner, Christian Williams’ runner was moving up through the ranks when he was sent off favourite for the Coral Trophy at Kempton in February.
That’s the level of expectation, and if he were to achieve it now off a reduced handicap mark then he would be very dangerous indeed.
The fact is though that he didn’t win, he was poor over these fences in the Topham and was underwhelming at Bangor last time out. Watch the betting.
This is a young chaser and as such there is bound to be lots more to come from him over time.
Over time is the key thing to remember though, for while we’ve seen him improve 10 or 11lbs since his time in France, it has happened oh so gradually.
After staying well over 2¾ miles at Auteuil on very soft ground to win June, he was getting there all the time last month in the Grand Sefton here when runner-up so he’ll surely appreciate this staying distance now.
If the trip is the key with him, he’s ready for another step up the ladder now but it’s not forgotten that the handicapper has put him up another 4lbs, dampening enthusiasm slightly.
This superb mare landed a good gamble, and of course was a winner for this column when taking this race twelve months ago. After looking like winning it easily she had to really grind it out in the end, but we know she’s quality.
The positives are that she may well be better now and she’s in her ideal environment. She was only 5/1 for her seasonal reappearance but slipped before the first, so take no notice of the latest ‘P’ next to her name.
She is 6lbs higher than last year though and that alone could be enough to halt her, at least for now.
We couldn’t dismiss Five Star Getaway lightly and there’s just that chance he could be handicapped well enough to cause some damage.
Ashtown Lad has been the subject of a gamble, but that is rather typical of his owner and perhaps his trainer too so that alone cannot be enough to make our minds up.
On form, ground preference, handicap ratings, staying ability and progression, FANTASTIKAS is up there with the best of them and at his much bigger odds, he’s better value at least for small stakes.