Baby to Run them ragged
Richard Dunwoody crunches the numbers in a bid to solve this weekend's Becher Chase at Aintree.
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As we head into December there is no let-up with the top-class National Hunt action as this Saturday we've got the Bet Victor Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown to look forward to, while up at Aintree there is the Becher Chase run over the National fences.
The Tingle Creek is a race that brings back a lot of memories as I was lucky enough to ride the winner five times, once with Lefrak City and twice each with Waterloo Boy and Sound Man.
This year's contest may not really be a betting proposition with the jumping superstar Sprinter Sacre looking bombproof if he turns up. Nicky Henderson's seven-year-old is now 10-from-10 over fences and looks a league apart from all his rivals in the two-mile chasing division.
He'll be short price to follow-up last year's win in the race and has now started odds-on in all of his last eight outings. He's rated almost 20lb higher than his nearest rival Sire De Grugy and 27lb superior to the decent Somersby.
Add in that the Nicky Henderson team are beginning to hit top form with three winners last Saturday - a timely boost as some critics had been starting to wonder about the form of the Seven Barrows horses - and you can see the size of the task facing the opposition.
Sprinter Sacre is already as short as 1/4 (best price 1/2) in places for the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, so unless a shock of epic proportions occurs on Saturday we could see this ante-post price firm up even more.
Moving on to the Becher Chase at Aintree and, in contrast to the Tingle Creek, this was a race that eluded me during my riding days - but in my defence I didn't ride in many and it's only been going since 1992.
Looking at the trends it's been a race dominated by the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard with five wins since 1993, while former champion trainer Paul Nicholls is also no stranger to landing the prize either having taken it in 2004, 2006 and 2007.
Being run over the National-style fences then it also gives us some early pointers ahead of the Merseyside marathon next April - with Silver Birch and Amberleigh House recent winners to win both prizes, albeit not in the same season.
The Irish have a fair recent record in the race too with three wins since 2005 and at this stage of the week they look to hold a strong hand with Willie Mullins' On His Own the favourite with most firms.
This nine-year-old was well-fancied in last season's Grand National, but came to grief when looking help at Valentine's second time around - he also fell the year before at Bechers so those against him will cling to the fact he's yet to prove he handles these fences, while his last two starts have been far from convincing.
The former Jessie Harrington-trained Boston's Angel is now with David Pipe and with his horses in good form rates interesting.
Certainly, Boston's Angel has the class to take this. He was a fine fourth in the cross country race at the Cheltenham Festival last season so has shown a liking for these different fences, but the negative might be he's not been out since May and eight of the last 11 winners of this race had raced in the last six weeks.
As mentioned, Twiston-Davies has a cracking record in the race and his only runner at this stage is BABY RUN. Now 13, this former Cheltenham Foxhunters winner also landed the Aintree version around this course. He's not been out since April 2011, so does have a lot to prove, but the yard took this with a 14-year-old 12 months ago so anything is possible.
The other trainer mentioned with a good record in this is Nicholls - he runs Join Together, who was last seen running well down the field over in France. He was, however, a fine second in this contest last season off a 2lb higher mark. Those looking to take him on though might see that he's still only eight-years-old and this race has gone to a horse aged nine or older in eight of the last 11 runnings.
Becher Chase - 11 Year Trends
9/11 - Won by an Irish bred horse
9/11 - Had no more than one start that season
8/11 - Had won between two and five times over fences previously
8/11 - Aged nine or older
8/11 - Officially rated between 123-138
8/11 - Had run within the last six weeks
8/11 - Carried 10-12 or less in weight
8/11 - Had won over at least three miles (fences) previously
7/11 - Had raced at Aintree previously
6/11 - Went onto finish unplaced in that season's Aintree Grand National
6/11 - Had run over these Grand National-style fences previously
5/11 - Favourites placed
5/11 - Returned a double-figure price in the betting market
5/11 - Ran in the previous season's Aintree Grand National
3/11 - Irish-trained winners
3/11 - Won their last race
3/11 - Won by the Paul Nicholls yard
2/11 - Favourites that won
2/11 - Won the Grand National later in their career
0/11 - Won the Grand National that same season
The average winning SP in the last 10 runnings is 12/1
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has won the race five times since 1993
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