SUE SMITH’S stable stalwart Mr Moonshine carries Yorkshire’s hopes in today’s Betfred Becher Chase at Aintree.
Third last year to Chance Du Roy, who heads today’s 25-runner field, this is another horse who appears to thrive over the National fences.
Pulled up in the 2013 Grand National which was won by the Smith-trained Auroras Encore, Mr Moonshine ran with great credit in last year’s Becher before returning to Aintree and finishing 15th in this year’s National.
The consensus is that Mr Moonshine, who runs in the Auroras Encore colours of Douglas Pryde, Jim Beaumont and David Van Der Hoeven, does not quite stay the gruelling National trip of four miles and three furlongs.
With stable jockey Ryan Mania having surprisingly retired from the saddle last month, the well-regarded conditional jockey Daragh Bourke – another rider on the books of agent Bruce Jeffrey – is aboard Mr Moonshine today and his five-pound weight allowance could be invaluable.
“He handles the track and jumps very well there,” Smith told The Yorkshire Post.
“We have Daragh on board so we can take five pounds off the horse. Hopefully, that will help a little bit.
“He finished third last year and hopefully he will see the trip out. He’s had a run – he was fifth in the Old Roan to Wishfull Thinking – and should come on for that.”
There is a formidable three-pronged Irish challenge, with the Jim Dreaper-trained Goonyella joined by Gordon Elliott’s recent Troytown Chase winner Balbriggan and Thomas Gibney’s outsider Lion Na Bearnai. Goonyella ran with credit in both the Welsh and Irish Grand Nationals last season and warmed up for his trip to Aintree with a narrow defeat over hurdles at Punchestown last month.
Teenager Johnny Burke takes the mount on what will be his first ride over the National fences.
“We’re going there full of hope,” said Dreaper, whose father Tom trained the legendary Arkle.
“I think the Grand National distance would actually suit him perfectly, but he just failed to get into last year’s race and he needs to go up in the weights. The heavier the ground, the better for us as our horse wouldn’t be the quickest and it might just slow the others down.”
David Pipe has a couple of major contenders in The Package and Our Father with stable jockey Tom Scudamore siding with the former.
“The Package ran a great race in the Grand National for a long way, until his stamina gave way. I think he’s got a decent chance,” said Scudamore.
“He’s one of the yard’s old favourites, he’s been a fantastic servant and it would be nice to go and win another big pot with him.”
The National fences will also be encountered in the Betfred Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over two miles five furlongs with King Of The Wolds representing Malton trainer Malcolm Jefferson.
“I’m hoping he’ll take to the fences very well. He’s a good jumper,” said Jefferson. “I was pleased with him at Ayr. He just got nabbed near the line.
“He’s coming back in trip. Brian (Hughes) thinks two-mile-five will be all right for him because you need plenty of stamina round there over those jumps.”