Aintree: Vieux Lion Rouge denies Brooke fairytale success
Vieux Lion Rouge (right) just gets up close home
PICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos) Vieux Lion Rouge denies Brooke fairytale success By Tony McFadden 1:36PM 3 DEC 2016
Report: Aintree, Saturday
Betfred Becher Handicap Chase (Grade 3), 3m2f, 6yo
VIEUX LION ROUGE and Tom Scudamore got the better of a thrilling finish, narrowly denying Highland Lodge and Henry Brooke a fairytale success that had seemed likely until the final strides.
Highland Lodge, bidding to become the first back-to-back winner of the Becher Chase, jumped and travelled well in the lead under Brooke, who only returned from a career-threatening injury on Wednesday.
However, with victory in sight, Highland Lodge idled, leaving the door open for the David Pipe-trained Vieux Lion Rouge to get up by a short head.
Last year's Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri ran another stormer to finish third, just a length back, while Gordon Elliott's Ucello Conti finished a close-up fourth having held every chance at the final fence.
Vieux Lion Rouge, who was sent off as the well-supported 8-1 favourite in the ultra-competitive 22-runner handicap chase, earned a quote of 33-1 (from 66-1) with BetVictor for the Grand National, a race he shaped well in for a long way last season before weakening into seventh.
Pipe said: "This has been the plan for a while. I wasn't sure he was quite going to get there but once Scu got the running rail at the elbow the horse has responded well.
"The National is the plan again and we needed to get him up a few pounds to get him in and hopefully this will do it.
"He is only seven and he is definitely stronger this year. The difficult thing now is to decide whether to run him again."
How the race was won
Modifications to the fences in recent years means that the Grand National course does not perhaps pose the fearsome test it once did. However, two horses exited at each of the first two fences, including Saint Are and Alvarado, who both have plenty of experience over the Aintree fences.
As the field settled into a rhythm the jumping improved and Highland Lodge appeared to be going particularly well at the head of affairs.
Vieux Lion Rouge, Ucello Conti and The Last Samuri attempted to throw down a challenge on the approach to the last, but it looked as if Highland Lodge had fended them off as he passed the elbow and headed down the straight a couple of lengths to the good.
Those hoping for the feel-good racing story of the year were denied though, as Highland Lodge idled markedly, allowing Vieux Lion Rouge to snatch victory.
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