Antepost Angle: Let the Lion roar!
Matt Brocklebank is keen on David Pipe's sole entry in the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase in his latest Antepost Angle preview.
Vieux Lion Rouge: Only 3lb higher than when winning well at Haydock
David Pipe has never won the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase but he has a prime candidate as he bids to break his duck in the Aintree marathon this year in the shape of VIEUX LION ROUGE (25/1 Ladbrokes, 20s general).
There hasn't been a seven-year-old winner of this famous feature since subsequent Grand National hero Silver Birch in 2004, and there's only been two in the race's 24-year history, but age shouldn't be an issue for this talented French-bred and a more pertinent aspect of his profile well worth focusing on is course experience.
A previous look at the Aintree birch has always been a major factor but it seems to have become even more important in recent seasons, with seven of the past 10 Becher winners all coming into the race with experience of this unique circuit behind them.
Highland Lodge, eighth in 2014, made it six on the bounce for Aintree regulars when scoring for the Jimmy Moffatt stable 12 months ago and he looks set to come here fresh this time around having pulled-up in the Scottish Grand National when last seen in April.
There are plenty of others with course experience who merit respect, including this year's National runner-up The Last Samuri, Saint Are – third in the 2014 Becher and second in Many Clouds' National, plus the well-rehearsed Double Ross, who has completed twice from his three attempts in the three other races regularly run on this track throughout the past two seasons.
He warmed up for his first crack at the Becher with a respectable fifth over the regulation fences here at the end of October and bids to give the race's leading trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies a sixth victory and his first since Hello Bud's return triumph here in 2012.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has sent out three previous winners and may be represented by Vivaldi Collonges and 2015 Topham fifth (co-favourite) Ruben Cotter.
The latter looks no more than fairly treated, though he has only had 10 chase starts and remains unexposed over distances beyond three miles.
But it is Pipe's sole contender Vieux Lion Rouge that stands out from a handicapping perspective having been eased a generous-looking 4lb following his highly creditable seventh behind Rule The World here on the second Saturday in April.
James Reveley took the reins that day and gave his relatively young mount a sumptuous ride, creeping into things from off the pace and looking a major threat until the second-last fence when the petrol gauge understandably started to run low on the testing ground.
Another look at the replay – which can be done right here – highlights Vieux Lion Rouge's super-efficient jumping was absolutely key to his making progress while others fell apart all around him and, barring a small error at Canal Turn on the second circuit, it was basically as good an initiation to the National fences as you're likely to witness.
The National outing came on the back of a decent effort when sixth in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival – a race which has already thrown up Grade One winner Native River (favourite for this weekend's Hennessy Gold Cup) and Ayr hero Vicente – and a fair second to the high-class Sausalito Sunrise at Ascot in February.
His last three runs, therefore, have all been perfectly respectable to say the least and yet he has dropped to a mark just 3lb higher than when slamming a fair field in a 0-145 contest over three miles at Haydock 12 months ago.
Another crack at the big one next spring is bound to be at the forefront of Pipe's thinking when mapping out this horse's campaign but it makes sense to get more experience into him on the way there, while another point of which the trainer will be all too aware is that a mark of 142 would not have been high enough to make the cut for the 2016 National.
It would have been for the previous nine renewals, but that's not a risk the team will be willing to take and there's more encouragement to be taken from Pipe's recent stable tour comments in which he states they'll be looking to get his rating back up again, starting with the Becher.
The Pipe name has already been etched into the history of Aintree racecourse thanks to the exploits of Miinnehoma and Comply Or Die, while Pipe junior has also saddled the winner of the Grand Sefton with Poole Master obliging a couple of years ago.
But the Becher Chase is a glaring omission from the Pond House Stable's trophy cabinet and that's something they will be keen to put right sooner rather than later.
They've sent out a runner in five of the last six years, finishing fourth on a couple of occasions, so with the intention to run all but secure, proven ability to cope with the Aintree fences and a very tempting handicap rating, everything looks in place for Vieux Lion Rouge to make his ante-post odds look completely silly.
Posted at 1420 GMT on 22/11/16.