IF ever the phrase ‘course specialist’ applied to one horse in particular, then Highland Lodge is probably it.
The 12-year-old – trained by Cartmel handler James Moffatt – returns to his favoured stomping ground of Aintree this Saturday for a race he has become synonymous with in recent years, the Becher Chase.
Victorious in the 3m 1f Grade Three steeplechase over the Grand National fences in 2015, Highland Lodge has followed that up by being placed in the two most recent renewals of the Becher.
The Merseyside course is somewhere he has always shown a liking for under Moffatt’s charge and the Pit Farm Stables trainer is more than happy for that to be the case.
“It’s almost to the point where he doesn’t really like them anywhere else,” said Moffatt, who again renews Highland Lodge’s partnership with jockey Henry Brooke. “It makes him a bit of a one-trick pony, but if that one-trick race is the Becher Chase then so be it.
“We’re really looking forward to him going, Henry Brooke rides and you just can’t help but looking forward to a horse like this. He’s magnificent over those fences.”
Highland Lodge has not been seen since being pulled up in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock back in January, although he has always been used sparingly by Moffatt since coming into his care three years ago.
The trainer is in no doubt that will suit the horse perfectly, with Highland Lodge having a quiet week of work to make sure he is at his best come the off at 1:30pm this Saturday.
It is shaping up to be a high-quality field ahead of the final declarations, with multiple Grade One winner Don Poli, last year’s Becher victor Blaklion and 2016 Grand National runner-up The Last Samurai among the potential 28 runners still in at Monday’s confirmation stage.
But Moffatt is quietly confident Highland Lodge will be able to deliver a strong run for him and owners Cheveley Park Stud.
“He’s been trained for the race, he hasn’t got any mileage on the clock and we’re just putting the finishing touches to him,” said Moffatt. “He’s done all his serious work and this week is just freshening up time for him.
“Obviously, he’s not getting any younger and realistically it’s going to be a big task, but it’s been a big task for him every year and just the fact he hasn’t got a lot of mileage does give you hope for another really big run.
“Certainly, his home-work, it’s been as good as it ever has been and we’ve said that to Cheveley Park, so we’re looking forward to seeing a great horse run again.”