Aintree rivals set to battle again

FORMER winners Blaklion, Vieux Lion Rouge and Highland Lodge have all been declared for tomorrow's Becher Chase at Aintree.

Blaklion won last year's Becher chase under Gavin Sheehan.
Blaklion won last year's Becher chase under Gavin Sheehan.

This contest over the iconic Grand National fences is an established trial for April’s showpiece race at the Merseyside track.

Partnered 12 months ago by Gavin Sheehan, defending champion Blaklion will be the mount of trainer Nigel-Twiston-Davies’s son Sam.

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Twiston-Davies also saddles Scottish Grand National second Ballyoptic as he chases an unprecedented seventh victory in the three and a quarter mile highlight.

Highland Lodge and Henry Brooke clear the last in the 2015 Becher Chase.

Meanwhile, Tom Scudamore will be on board David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge, who prevailed in 2016 after catching the heroic Highland Lodge on the line.

Tomorrow’s race is likely to be the last in the career of the Jimmy Moffatt-trained Highland Lodge who won in 2015.

Now 12, the horse has been integral to the career of Middleham jockey Henry Brooke, who has struck up a brilliant rapport with the Aintree specialist.

As well as being first and second in 2015 and 2016, the combination were third to Blaklion last year.

Oisin Murphy and Beat The Bank (near side) hopes to secure a poignant victory in Hong Kong on Sunday.

“The race seems to suit him above all others and he does run very well fresh. We have geared the last four or five months around this one day,” said Moffatt, who trains near Cartmel.

The weights are headed by Gigginstown House Stud’s Don Poli, one of six Irish-trained runners.

Ultragold boasts an excellent record over the Grand National fences, having captured the last two renewals of the Topham Chase for trainer Colin Tizzard and jockey Harry Cobden.

Meanwhile, Altior will face just three rivals as he bids to continue his remarkable winning streak in tomorrow’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.

Nicky Henderson’s top-class performer has won all his nine starts over fences and has won his last 14 races in all.

Last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase hero signed off that campaign by lifting the Celebration Chase for the second year running at Sandown in April but has not been gifted an easy task on his return to action.

Heading the talented trio that take him on is Irish raider Un De Sceaux, winner of this coveted prize in 2016.

Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados – the mount of the aforementioned Sheehan – likes to make the running and he is fresh from an all-the-way win at Naas four weeks ago.

And Alan King is pitching in Sceau Royal following his victory in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month.

OISIN Murphy feels that Beat The Bank is more than capable of toppling reigning champion Beauty Generation and claiming a poignant victory in the Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin on Sunday.

Running in the colours of the late Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Murphy is optimistic he can steer him to a third win this year.

Trained by Andrew Balding, Beat The Bank has already won the Summer Mile and Celebration Mile this year.

Murphy said: “He is a fantastic horse and I’ve only been beaten on him once ever and that was at Royal Ascot when he wasn’t 100 per cent. We are delighted with him at home and this was his late owner’s plan for the horse. The boss has tried to keep him fresh and get the horse ready for this race.

“Let’s put it this way, Beat The Bank is not a Group One winner in Europe yet but to be honest with you I really believe in the horse.

“I’ve ridden probably more than any other jockey for the family and it is terrible what has happened but, thankfully, his family are very keen in keeping the organisation going and I would love to reward them.”