Lion roars to land Becher thriller
Vieux Lion Rouge collared last year's winner Highland Lodge in the final strides to land the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree.
Vieux Lion Rouge: Won the Becher Chase on Saturday
Highland Lodge was always prominent and looked like becoming the first horse to take this race two years in a row, but Tom Scudamore and Vieux Lion Rouge sneaked up the rail to snatch the spoils.
It was tough luck on Highland Lodge's connections, particularly jockey Henry Brooke who has only recently returned to action after suffering injuries that left him in an induced coma less than two months ago.
Beeves and Highland Lodge cut out the running and the latter kept on gamely as the race hotted up after the third-last fence.
The Jimmy Moffatt-trained Highland Lodge landed in front over the last and only gave way close to the line as Vieux Lion Rouge, the 8-1 favourite, claimed the prize over the Grand National fences for the David Pipe team.
Highland Lodge was a length ahead of National runner-up The Last Samuri in third place, with Ucello Conti fourth.
There was early drama with Saint Are and Ziga Boy coming down at the first fence, while Alvarado and Cogry exited at the second. Other casualties included Milborough, Dare To Endeavour and The Young Master.
Pipe said: "This has obviously been the plan for a while, but I wasn't sure he was going to get there.
"Once Scu bagged the rail at the elbow then I felt like he'd get up and he responded well.
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"He ran a brilliant race in the National (seventh) but he's only seven and he didn't quite get home, he's a stronger horse now.
"He seems to respect the National fences more than park fences and we needed him to win a race to be high enough to get back in the National.
"Now we need to decide if he runs again, because if he loses you run the risk of his mark dropping. It might be that he doesn't run again."
Pipe went on: "Scu was insistent that if he was in with a chance he needed to be on the rail at the elbow and it paid off.
"Usually he needs it very soft but he has form on all sorts of ground.
"I'm not really a shouter when I watch, but there's just something about the National fences that makes it that bit more exciting."
Scudamore said: "He hasn't been the strongest in a finish in the past, but I think he's just a stronger horse now.
"I've won the Grand Sefton before so to win another over these fences is great, it's always emotional for us as a family because of granddad and Oxo."
A proud Moffatt said of Highland Lodge: "I couldn't be more pleased. He's done everything right, we had him fit enough but he's just been nailed. Congratulations to the connections of the winner."
Brooke said: "I think I was in front too long.
"It was brilliant, he loves it here and just comes alive, I'm just sorry we couldn't hold on."Sky Bet went 25-1 from 50s about the winner for the Grand National, a race in which he was a non-staying seventh back in April.
Spokesman Michael Shinners said: "The handicapper will have his say but Vieux Lion Rouge showed his ability to act on the unique track once again and he stayed on nicely today with the National in mind. There's no doubt he'll be trained for the race."
*Vieux Lion Rouge was tipped at 25-1 by Matt Brocklebank in his Ante-post Angle preview
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