It may have been the coldest Becher Chase Day on record since its inaugural running in 1992 but there were plenty of hot Grand National pointers to take out of an excellent days racing at the Merseyside track last month.
On an afternoon which saw the only fixture outside of the Grand National Festival to have horses running over the Grand National fences, there was plenty to gleam from the Becher Chase itself, the Grand Sefton Chase, and to some extent the Many Clouds Chase (not run over the National fences).
Let’s take each race one-by-one:
Blaklion delivered a statement of intent for next year's Grand National with an impressive nine-length victory over The Last Samuri in very testing going.
Gavin Sheehan rode the well-backed 7-4 favourite to victory to give Nigel Twiston-Davies, a record sixth victory in the race.
Previous readers of this blog will recall that at the start of November I advised you to follow Blaklion as a 25/1 shot for next year’s Grand National in my first ante-post piece of the season, for which the eight-year-old is now the 12/1 market leader.
Many people have subsequently argued that Blaklion failed to see out the Grand National trip last year and that his 12/1 quote is pretty short given the fact that he is bound to get clobbered by the official handicapper once the weights are revealed in February.
Those that are firmly in the Blaklion camp point out that the gelding is another year older, stronger and wiser and it is widely acknowledged by the Twiston-Davies camp that the horse was sent for home far too early in the latter stages of the 2017 renewal. It was quite obvious in the Becher Chase that new tactics have been adopted for him.
Blaklion is unlikely to be seen again until after the Grand National weights have been published next month.
Twiston-Davies said this week: "He is in very good heart and let's hope he keeps on getting better.
"He probably won't run until after the Grand National weights are published I would have thought.
"He went up 8lb for the other day. Hopefully there will be others with higher weights in the race to help.
"Red Rum won the race with huge weights. If the horse is good enough it is possible."
The gallant runner-up The Last Samuri (25/1) will have just one more run this season before being putting away for yet another crack (his third) at the National in April according to his trainer Kim Bailey.
The nine-year-old had to hump top weight in the Becher Chase on a testing day and Bailey felt he deserved plenty of credit in finding only Blaklion too good, being beaten nine lengths when having to concede 6lb.
Plans for the third placed horse Highland Lodge (66/1) are a little more fluid at this stage. The eleven-year-old’s trainer Jimmy Moffatt said: "Whether we aim at the National again or the Topham, or Henry Brooke even mentioned the cross-country race at the Cheltenham Festival.
"We might even run him in late January or early February, but we'll have a chat about it and go from there."
The Donald McCain-trained Federici finished 16 lengths back in fourth, having challenged four fences out from home before fading. He currently does not appear in the ante-post market for 2018 so it is presumed his participation is a doubtful one.
The twelve-year-old grey Portrait King ran a commendable fifth given his veteran status and the testing conditions underfoot but it is highly likely that his next Aintree engagement will be in the Topham Chase as opposed to the Grand National itself.
David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge (40/1) clearly hated the conditions in the Becher and came home a tailed-off seventh but it would be folly to write him off just yet given his Aintree pedigree. The extra ten points that were added to his Grand National 2018 price post-race may still entice one or two punters to have a dabble on him now for April’s race.
Ian Williams’ decision to go for the two-mile-five-furlong event over the National fences rather than the longer Becher Chase earlier in the day was duly rewarded as the eleven-year-old Gas Line Boy (25/1) took the spoils in the Grand Sefton Chase.
Owned by The Three Graces, Gas Line Boy came fifth in this year's Grand National and will now be targeted at the 2018 running.
After the race, Williams tweeted: "Gas Line Boy confirmed his love of the National fences. He finished a gallant fifth in the Grand National last April and he'll be trained for the big one again.
Gas Line Boy has since gone on to finish third in the 32Red Veterans' Final at Sandown Park on January 6th.
It is unclear at this stage whether the runner-up Ultragold, trained by Colin Tizzard, will be aimed again at the Topham Chase, which he won gamely last April, or will be stepped up in trip for the National. Bookmakers rank him a 100/1 shot for the latter.
The rather fragile Sametegal ran a decent third under top-weight and has been quoted at 50/1 should Paul Nicholls give him a National entry.
Many Clouds Chase
Despite his trainer indicating that he will “probably” be aimed at the Grade One Bowl at Aintree this April, there was plenty of interest by punters on Definitly Red for the Grand National after he won the Many Clouds Chase there at the Becher meeting.
So much so that the eight-year-old chestnut became a strong 25/1 chance in the immediate aftermath of his gutsy battle and victory over Cloudy Dream.
Straight after the race his trainer Brian Ellison said: "He was brilliant today, his jumping was immaculate, that's what won him it.
"We knew the others might have stamina worries so Danny could be aggressive on him.
"I don't know where we'll go next, we could even look for a three-mile hurdle for him somewhere.
"We'll give him plenty of time to get over this, but I'd say we won't be aiming at Cheltenham.
"The plan will be to be back at Aintree in April for the Grade One Bowl, I think.
"He doesn't mind good ground, he just doesn't like it tacky like it was at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall."
Becher Chase day has not always been an accurate barometer of what might happen the following April should any of those horses return for a tilt at the National, but from time-to-time it does throw up some significant form lines.
Only last season One For Arthur came a close fifth in the Becher Chase only to return the following April and capture the 2017 Grand National.
This year we have a highly rated chaser winning the Becher in Blaklion and he is being touted as being another Red Rum. Can he reach those heady heights? We can only wait and see what unfolds.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*