The page of the calendar has turned from November to December and with it, the Grade 1 action is lifting a level. This weekend will see some fabulous National Hunt action on either side of the Irish Sea, but my betting eye is focused on a couple of the handicaps in pursuit of a winner.
Chris out to live the Dream in Becher Chase
The first race of interest comes at Aintree on Saturday in the shape of the Becher Handicap Chase (14:40). This contest over the Grand National fences always attracts a great amount of attention, but this year’s race looks to be particularly strong.
The one I like is the top weight, the Henry De Bromhead-trained Chris’s Dream.
One could look at the race record of the nine-year-old and readily opine that he lacks in consistency, but there is a long-established pattern with him. He is best when fresh. Since joining Henry De Bromhead, his record when given 80 or more days in between runs is four wins from six contests, as well as a neck second in Grade 1 company, versus one win from eight starts when running off shorter gaps than that.
So, while it is encouraging that Chris’s Dream comes into this race fresh, his prospects are even more intriguing when one watches back how he took to the Grand National fences in his first attempt at them in the Grand National earlier this year.
Darragh O’Keeffe rode him down the brave man’s route up the inside and the son of Mahler seemed to take to the fences very well. Indeed, he followed the eventual winner Minella Times for much of the race and seemed to be going just as well as that rival and making a rare mistake and unseating his rider at the fourth-last fence.
Big run expected from course specialist
The Betfair Exchange London National Handicap Chase (15:00) is a fiercely-competitive contest and the one I like the look of is the Philip Hobbs-trained Deise Aba.
The eight-year-old hasn’t been what could be described as a model of consistency in the last year, with him being pulled up in three of his four starts last season. However, when he’s on a going day, there has always been plenty to like about him.
Encouragingly, he got this season off to a very positive start when running a big race at a big price to finish second in a competitive handicap hurdle at Aintree last month. That run should have blown away any cobwebs and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if his trainer intended to use that as a sharpener to have him cherry-ripe for this race.
The reason to suspect that is that for all his inconsistency, Sandown has really seemed to light a fire under Deise Aba in the past. He has run there twice over fences and won consecutive renewals of a valuable handicap chase there in February. His forward-going style seems well suited to this track and there is a chance he could get the lead to himself in this contest.
Deise Aba still seems fairly handicapped off a mark of 140 over fences and his run over hurdles at Aintree also suggests that he has returned this season in tip-top form. If he turns up here in the same nick, he is likely to run a big race.
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