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Excitement grows for Aintree showdownPosted on Thursday 7th December 2017 @ 10.43

Aintree will come alive on Saturday for the Becher Chase and an exciting field full of big names will fight for the prize.

The 3m 2f race is an early season trial for the Grand National and is named after Martin Becher of Becher's Brook fame. This Grade 3 contest comes with a prize purse of £140,000 and it has attracted several leading lights from across the National Hunt scene. Twenty-four have confirmed and that includes last year’s winner, Vieux Lion Rouge, runner-up Highland Lodge and third placed The Last Samurai. However, Blaklion is the favourite after finishing fourth in the 2017 Grand National and enjoying a strong season debut this time around.

Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has won this race five times and Blaklion could well make it six on Saturday. He finished just a length behind Bristol De Mai in his season reappearance, an excellent achievement when you consider that Bristol De Mai won the Betfair Chase by 57 lengths from Cue Card last month. But this is a field packed with talent. Research betting websites before placing action and you will find seven runners clustered around the 10/1 to 12/1 mark.

Highland Lodge, who won the race in 2015 and was second last year, carries 10st 5lbs and trainer Jimmy Moffatt is extremely positive about his chances on Saturday. “He's in great form,” said Moffatt. “He’s had exactly the same preparation as last year and he’s going every bit as well. I've no doubts in my mind about that whatsoever. He’s really come alive in the last two or three weeks and his wind-up gallop on Saturday was probably one of the best pieces of work I've seen him do. I couldn’t be happier with him. This has been his long-range target so he's been in since the end of July. He’s had a good long steady build-up.”

Highland Lodge is as long as 16/1 with various bookmakers but is attracting a lot of attention from the betting public, as is Viva Steve at the same price. He has already gone in from 25/1 and the odds could continue to plummet as he has been well tipped after finishing fourth at the Kerry National in Listowel earlier this season.

Paul Nicholls believes the race is well suited to As De Mee, another runner that is around the 10/1 to 14/1 mark. There are plenty of contenders, but Blaklion still dominates the betting and almost half of the action has gone on him. The eight-year-old bay gelding has won eight times in 23 career starts, but has not secured victory since March 2016, when he won the Grade 1 RSA Chase at Cheltenham. Since then he has gone close a couple of times, and he has placed in 14 of his 23 races, but he is well overdue a win.

But another horse in with a strong chance is The Last Samurai, who finished second here last year and is often there or thereabouts in endurance tests. He finished second on his season debut at Kempton and trainer Kim Bailey said: "It was a good run at Kempton and, provided he is in the same sort of form as he is now in two weeks’ time, he should have a very good chance. We will get the Becher Chase out the way first before deciding where we go for the rest of the season."

That is not exactly fighting talk from Bailey, but The Last Samurai has the ability to make a splash in this race and could be an interesting each-way option, but he has to overcome carrying top weight.

Article Posted on Thursday 7th December 2017 @ 10.43

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