Anyone with an ounce of sense will say that over Christmas the most miserable place to be is Walford of “Eastenders” fame but one Walford who certainly won’t be like that is Robert Walford as he saddled a famous victory over the big green foreboding monsters that make up the Grand National fences as a crowd of tough gritty northern stock and a fair few from other counties came out in the wind and rain to cheer him home in the 2018 running of the Becher Chase which for some reason was sponsorless!
Walk In The Mill in the colours of Baroness Harding like many of that afternoons winners had to put in the overtime to land a competitive renewal which featured some top class performers including a few course specialists and was being chased along from the Anchor Bridge crossing in which he duly found plenty to go past the field at the elbow and stayed on stoutly ahead of the running on Vieux Lion Rouge to score by over four lengths, connections have both eyes on the big day here in April in which he may not see the course again until Grand National day and this horse who was a reserve for last seasons race will almost certainly be guaranteed a place in the final 40.
Vieux Lion Rouge ran a fine race in defeat and showed that these fences bring out the best in him, like the winner he should be back here and would have a good chance should conditions come up his way again while dual Topham winner Ultragold in third just failed to get the extra distance and although connections may be keen on the National he would be better suited to having a crack at getting the match-ball in the Topham again.
Trainer Brian Ellison was made up with Definitly Red easily following up from his Charlie Hall success last month to land another Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase under Danny Cook, making all just like last year it turned into a routine win from Double Shuffle, The Gold Cup is the next nominated target so will avoid the big January and February trials with the Grand National and Bowl also on the shortlist.
That race also saw the return of 2017 National hero One For Arthur who took an uncharacteristic fall at the third fence but got up and had a gentle jog round in his own time, he reportedly heads to either Wetherby or Haydock around Christmas time.
Warriors Tale gave Paul Nicholls the other winner over the National fences as he landed the Grand Sefton over 2m5f, a competitive affair as usual for a race of this nature it paid to come from off the pace which he did and in the end dug in to overpower long time leader Brandon Hill, He did take part in last seasons National but clearly appreciated this shorter trip so all being well will be back to try his luck in the Topham in April, as for where he goes before that it’s possible a trip back up north for the Great Yorkshire at Doncaster next month will be on the agenda.
Sue Smith continues her good run of form at the moment as Midnight Shadow showed he gets further as he took the 2m4f Handicap Hurdle in gritty fashion ahead of Ch’tibellow by half a length, Taking last seasons Scottish Champion Hurdle showed Midnight Shadow looked to have a good future in front of him and bounced back from a poor show in the Greatwood to show just what he can do to land this off 141, as for his next target he will surely have to move up in grade so possibly the Relkeel at Cheltenham in January may be on the shortlist.
Finally the Irish tones of the late Peter O’Hehir could be heard echoing across the whole of Merseyside in an eventful opening race which brought back echoes of the 1967 Grand National albeit in a six runner novice hurdle.
Former flat stayed The Grand Visir decided that hurdling wasn’t for him and duly dumped Tom Scudamore after pressing the ejector button on his behalf which in turn had a knock on effect as behind them favourite Eldorado Allen got caught in the wash and was brought down with behind those two Bonbonniere who had to dance his way through the mess and keep going.
This left the Nicky Henderson trained Champagne Mystery with an uncontested lead, all over you think? Not a chance as heading into the turn away from the stands The Grand Visir crashed through the rails on his way back to the stables and spooked Champagne Mystery who ended up running off the course and getting himself a DQ!
It may not have been full on Foinavon but certainly a race that will be etched in Aintree’s history for quite a few years to come!
Fair to sat this was a Becher Chase Day that many will remember with close finishes and battle hardened performers showing their magic at this iconic venue in racing.
All being well next time we will be at Haydock for the Tommy Whittle before Christmas, until then Goodbye