IT was a Blak day for the bookies in the Becher Chase last December.
And they could be suffering another painful blow in the satchels again as BLAKLION has a terrific chance of a repeat success in the big race over 3m2f of the Grand National course at Aintree (1.30).
He was smashed in the betting 12 months ago, 7-4 from 4-1, but his backers had few worries as he was always travelling and jumping well, before storming clear after the elbow for a nine-length success.
He is only 5lb higher today and that certainly would not have altered last year’s result.
He was fourth in the 2017 National, possibly just failing to stay the trip, and was brought down at the first in the great race in April.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has won this race six times, also runs Ballyoptic but he looks high in the weights having been raised 6lb for his narrow defeat in the Scottish National.
Course form counts for plenty here and Blaklion is joined by two other Becher winners – Vieux Lion Rouge (2016) and Highland Lodge (2015).
Both have claims but Vieux Lion Rouge was disappointing throughout last season and Highland Lodge is 12 now.
However, he has made the frame in the last two years and could reward each-way support again.
Gordon Elliott sends two long-absent stars over from Ireland, Don Poli and Noble Endeavour.
Both are well handicapped but this is probably a case of ‘testing the water’ for a tilt at the big day next April. The main danger may be Ultragold, whose form figures over these fences read 121.
He should go well for a long way but has yet to prove he stays this trip and Blaklion will ensure this is a real test.
Whatever the Becher throws up, there is a race of (Grand) National interest at 2.05 when One For Arthur, the Aintree hero of 2017, makes his long-awaited return in the Many Clouds Chase over the Mildmay fences.
He was one of the best winners of the great race of recent years and, if he comes through this test satisfactorily will surely be a big player next April when he will still only be a ten-year-old.
There is quality jumping on Sunday when Huntingdon stage their big race of the season, the Peterborough Chase (2.25).
Kim Bailey’s CHARBEL must have a massive chance, having improved this season for the step up to distances of around two and a half miles.
He was only just pipped by King George-bound Politologue at Ascot last time and his earlier Chepstow defeat of Baron Alco reads even better since the runner-up’s Cheltenham big-racer success last month.
The ‘course form’ angle in the second race over the big fences, the Grand Sefton (3.15), points to Shanahan’s Turn and Kilcrea Vale, second and fourth in the Topham Chase over this course and distance in April.
The former is weighted to confirm the form and is a player but he is probably better on less testing ground and wins rarely.
That could never be said of FOREST DES AIGLES, who is five from ten over fences, and was better than ever on his return when winning a competitive event at Ayr.
The handicapper could have put him up more than the 4lb he has settled on. That race was on good ground but Forest des Aigles loves the mud and has won at three miles on heavy.
That stamina should be a real asset late on. Anything Nigel Twiston-Davies runs over this track commands respect but Crievehill has been hammered for his reappearance second at Uttoxeter.
Warriors Tale, like Captain Redbeard and Catamaran du Seuil, has a chance but they all have their fair (and possibly a little extra unfair) share of weight.
If Forest takes to the fences he is a knocking each-way bet.
At Sandown the highlight will be the reappearance of the best chaser in training, Altior, in the Tingle Creek Chase (3.00).
Trainer Nicky Henderson will be hoping he takes after Buveur d’Air rather than Might Bite, his two other superstars who returned on the last two Saturdays.
Only three take him on but they are all high-class and this will not be a walk in the park for the favourite but it is a race to savour, not to bet on.
Apple’s Shakira looks set to go off favourite in the 2.25 but last season’s juvenile hurdlers were not the greatest bunch and she could struggle to give weight away to older handicappers, especially as she may be better over further this season.
Totterdown made all to win here last month but is 10lb higher now and will not get an easy lead with fellow front-runner Eragon de Chanay, who is two from two at the track, among the opposition.
I spy an eyecatcher…
At Wincanton on Thursday DANSE IDOL was hugely impressive when quickstepping away with the mares’ maiden hurdle for Paul Nicholls.
Bought for £110,000 after finishing second to Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner Relegate at Punchestown in January she looked as if she might just be worth the outlay when powering home in a time more than five seconds faster than the earlier handicap over the same 2m5f trip.
The runner-up, Printing Dollars, pulled 15 lengths clear of the pack and is probably pretty useful herself but Danse Idol is the name to note.
She will surely have a part to play in some much bigger races later in the season.
The one who could pick up the pieces off a strong pace is NELSON’S TOUCH, who was second to race-fit Totterdown last time on his seasonal return and is 9lb better off now.
WILD WEST WIND‘s form figures (or, more accurately, letters!) resemble a bad hand at Scrabble but he is worth the obvious risk in the 2.30 at Chepstow.
He won this race 12 months ago, off a similar long lay-off, relishes the mud and is usually a good jumper – honest!
The positives are, he is the class horse in the race, is fairly treated despite top weight and comes from a stable in form. The negative? Wild West Wind has to be watched from behind the sofa! Fingers crossed.