Becher Handicap Chase: Ashtown Lad favourite for repeat win
Last year’s winner Ashtown Lad is Coral’s 4/1 favourite in the Becher Handicap Chase betting odds ahead of Saturday’s race at Aintree.
Dan Skelton’s runner, who won by two and a quarter lengths from Gesskille in the contest last season, is one of 14 declarations for the 2023 renewal.
He was pulled up in the Badger Beer when returning to action this season but has been well-fancied in the ante-post markets to return to form and retain his title.
Ashtown Lad again goes up against last year’s third Percussion (Laura Morgan), who once more showed his liking for the track when runner-up in the Grand Sefton four weeks ago and is second in the Becher Handicap Chase betting at 5/1.
Philip Hobbs and Johnson White’s Celebre D’Allen and Fergal O’Brien’s Highland Hunter are among the leading contenders while Gordon Elliott’s Coko Beach will bid to maintain his recent good form.
The grey gelding may have been pulled up in the Grand National last season but he was eighth the year before and has returned to action this term clearly in good heart.
His reappearance came in the Munster National at Limerick over three miles, where he was third when beaten just two and three-quarter lengths.
The eight-year-old then headed to Navan for the Troytown Chase and was the winner there from a field of 20, beating Limerick Lace and a whole host of Elliott stablemates in a tough staying victory.
Naturally, the handicapper has taken note and the gelding will now return to Aintree off a British mark of 162, a career-high that will see him carry top-weight of 12st which is reflected in his Becher Handicap Chase odds of 10/1.
Eddie O’Leary, of owners Gigginstown House Stud, said: “He’s got an awful lot of weight.
“He’s up to 161 now (in Ireland, running off 162 in UK) and that is going to be very tough because he’s far from that.
“He’s going for the Becher because he will enjoy the fences, he’s run in the National the last twice and he just hasn’t quite got home.”
The burden he will carry is eased by the booking of jockey Danny Gilligan, who claims 5lb and has ridden Coko Beach in his two prior starts this season.
“Danny is taking 5lb off his back, which will help,” said O’Leary. “There is no point in him running in something like the Savills Chase (at Leopardstown), because he’d get lapped.
“He’s a lovely horse, he’s only eight, he was second in a Fred Winter as a juvenile but unfortunately he’s got no chance competing against those good horses and his mark now is very tough in handicaps.”
Joe Tizzard has a real chance with The Big Breakaway, fifth in the Badger Beer Chase at Wincanton on his first run of the campaign.
The chestnut ran in the Grand National itself in April but his bid was cut short when he fell at the second obstacle, and his chances are helped by the drop in his handicap mark to 147.
“I’m looking forward to running him over the Aintree fences and he was unlucky in the National, he just got knocked over at the second,” the trainer said.
“This has always been the plan with him, to get a run into him and then have a crack at these fences and make sure that he takes to them as we expect him to. He’s in lovely form at home.
“The handicapper has given him a chance, that is for certain, and for a horse who has only won one chase, we always felt he was a little bit high.
“That was a serious run at Chepstow (second in the Welsh National) and that sort of warranted his mark, but now he’s been given a bit of a chance.
“He’s a beautiful jumper of a fence at home and when he is on song. I think he will take to the fences well and if he gives us an answer to the question, then we will give him a proper Grand National campaign.”
Harry Cobden will ride instead of stable jockey Brendan Powell, who heads to Sandown instead, with Cobden having already taken the ride on the horse twice in his earlier career.
Tizzard said: “Harry won two Tophams for us and has actually ridden The Big Breakaway at Cheltenham in his novice days and has schooled him plenty of times, so it’s all worked out perfectly for me because I was worried I was going to have a headache and then got the phone call that Harry could ride all ours up there.”
Becher Handicap Chase betting odds
4/1 Ashtown Lad
8/1 The Big Breakaway
9/1 Celebre d’Allen
10/1 Coko Beach, Highland Hunter
11/1 Now Where Or When, Undersupervision,
12/1 Lounge Lizard
14/1 Dorking Cock
16/1 Chambard, Sidi Ismael
20/1 Minella Trump
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All odds and markets correct as of date of publication