Highland Lodge may go direct to Aintree

Highland Lodge and Henry Brooke jump the final fence as they win the Betfred Becher Chase during the Betfred Becher Chase Community Day at Aintree.
Highland Lodge and Henry Brooke jump the final fence as they win the Betfred Becher Chase during the Betfred Becher Chase Community Day at Aintree.
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A STILL jubilant Jimmy Moffatt is seriously considering heading straight for the Crabbies Grand National with Highland Lodge following his impressive victory over the famous Aintree fences in Saturday’s Becher Chase.

Making his first appearance for the Cumbria-based trainer having previously shown smart form for Emma Lavelle, the nine-year-old raced from out of the handicap in the Merseyside feature but jumped brilliantly in the hands of Middleham jockey Henry Brooke on his way to running out a decisive winner.

Not only did the surprise win provide some heartwarming cheer to Moffatt’s flood-stricken county, but it was the most significant success of his career since Chief Dan George’s dramatic win at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival under Paddy Aspell.

“He’s come out of the race absolutely grand. He’s eaten up and I think he’s grown a hand since the race!” said Moffatt who began his training career at the High Eldwick stables of Sue and Harvey Smith.

“He’s just a very happy horse at the moment. He’s been getting a lot of love and attention since Saturday, as you can imagine, and that really does make a difference. It goes without saying we were thrilled to bits with him. He’s not the best of work horses as he’s not the quickest, but in the last fortnight he’s really picked up. Everyone is asking about the National now and I think that’s the way we’ve got to look.”

Moffatt is hopeful that a revised mark of 137 will be enough to earn Highland Lodge a starting berth in April. “He might need another pound or two to definitely get in the race, but the race is framed on its own and you’d like to think the handicapper will favour him a little bit because he’s already proven himself there,” said the trainer.

“He ticks a lot of boxes and it would be a shame if he didn’t get in. You have 40 runners in the Grand National and after the way he jumped round there the other day, I think most people would like to see him as one of the 40 as he would offer something to the race.

“It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if we just gave him a couple of racecourse gallops – one five weeks before the National and one two and a half weeks before – and went straight there. I’m not sure you’d want to tinker too much by running him over regulation fences or hurdles. The National is worth £1m now, so I don’t see much point in running him in a hurdle race worth £5,000 in the meantime. I’m tempted to go straight to Aintree.”

Whatever happens from here on in, Highland Lodge is already looking like a bargain buy having been snapped up for £22,000 a month ago.

“With a small yard like ours, we can’t pay the top money the big yards do,” said Moffatt.

“The options are you either buy one that’s unexposed, but then if they’re cheap they’re usually cheap for a reason, or you buy a horse from a big yard who you know has the engine but has maybe lost their way a little bit.

“We’ve tended to buy horses from the bigger yards who maybe need sweetening up and thankfully that seems to work for us. We’re delighted to have this horse and we can dream now.”

Timico Technology Group has been announced as the new sponsor of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in a four-year deal. The telecoms firm was formed in 2004 by Tim Radford who has owned top chasers like Somersby, Calgary Bay and Racing Demon.

Longstanding Pontefract boss Norman Gundill received the George Ennor Trophy for Outstanding Achievement at the annual Horserace Writers & Photographers Derby Awards Lunch.