Veterans to shine in Becher
Our expert Ben Linfoot seeks out the value at Aintree and Sandown on Saturday afternoon.
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Horse racing fans are in for a real treat on Saturday with Sprinter Sacre the hottest thing to graduate from novice company in a long time.
He's been the even-money favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase since he hammered the Arkle field at Cheltenham and finding a two-miler who could cope with him looked a longshot to say the least.
But then came along Sanctuaire, a former wayward lad who redeemed his reputation with two striking wins at Sandown at the backend of last season.
The last of those came when he destroyed Victor Chandler Chase winner Somersby and it was that performance that took him to within 3lb of Sprinter Sacre on official ratings.
And his presence in the Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday actually makes Sprinter Sacre a backable price at 1/2, as I can only see Paul Nicholls' charge making things even easier for Nicky Henderson's star.
On many occasions last season you just wanted something to give Sprinter Sacre a lead to help him settle and Sanctuaire will do just that at the Esher track.
I fully expect Barry Geraghty to be swinging away on Sprinter Sacre when Sanctuaire is under pressure and if things go to plan we could be in for a ratings-busting performance.
It's a pre-Christmas treat to savour but the big betting race of the day is up at Aintree in the shape of the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase (14.05).
In the 20 renewals of the race over the National fences three names dominate the winning trainer records - Nigel Twiston-Davies, Paul Nicholls and Dessie Hughes.
Twiston-Davies' Hello Bud is 14 years old now and while I wouldn't make a habit of backing teenagers who are 5lb out of the handicap he looks fairly treated on his form around here and he simply loves the place.
Two years ago he won this race off a 3lb higher mark and in this year's National he was a good seventh off 7lb higher where he was still in with a chance jumping the second last.
A bold front-runner who jumps like a stag, Hello Bud is handicapped to go very well from the front under Sam Twiston-Davies and I would be being ageist if I didn't think he was a value call at 16/1.
To my eyes he still retains his old zest for the game and it's worth noting that nine of the 20 winners of this race have been aged 10 or older.
Experience counts for a lot and with that in mind I'm inclined to think In Compliance will go very well for Grand National-winning rider Niall 'Slippers' Madden too.
The 12 year old is very well treated on his old form - he was rated 35lb higher at his absolute zenith - and he too ran a screamer off a higher mark in this year's National.
Eventually finishing fifth in the big one, Dessie Hughes' charge hunted round under Madden but was bang in contention between the third and second last.
A reproduction of that effort will see him in with a chance and I think it's worth backing the two old-timers against the field. Experience is not a negative in this contest.
While Barry Geraghty is expected to win the feature over at Sandown his booking also catches the eye in the previous contest, the Sportingbet Handicap Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson runs Petit Robin and while the decision to use 7lb-claimer Niko De Boinville may or may not be significant, Geraghty looks to have landed an interesting ride in MONTE CAVALLO.
Rebecca Curtis' seven year old has had just seven runs over timber and I don't think we've seen the best of him yet as he travelled and jumped well for a long way behind Raya Star on his seasonal reappearance.
He made a mess of the last flight which cost him a couple of positions but that's only served to see him priced up at 9/1 for this lesser contest and given he copes well with testing ground he looks worth a bet.
Ifandbutwhynot's Cheltenham form was boosted by the runner-up Tanerko Emery on Friday and though he's been raised almost a stone by the assessor he looks the main danger in an interesting little heat.
His claims are obvious, though, and not missed by the bookies at 9/2 I'd rather chance Curtis' charge to resume his progression at twice the price.