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Ballabriggs back at Aintree for Becher Chase

Updated: Friday, 07 Dec 2012 19:47 | Comments

Ground conditions at Aintree are expected to be slower than ideal for 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs
Ground conditions at Aintree are expected to be slower than ideal for 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs

Ballabriggs returns to the scene of his finest hour as he kicks off his season in the Betfred Becher Chase at Aintree on Saturday.

The 11-year-old provided trainer Donald McCain with a memorable Grand National triumph in 2011 but could finish only sixth in his title defence when saddled with an extra 10lb in April.

Ballabriggs is once again primed to tackle the National fences this weekend and despite conditions being against him, McCain is anticipating a good show.

He said: "He's in good nick, but obviously heavy ground and 11st 12lb is not ideal - it's going to be hard work.

"He's not getting any younger but he's a horse who's not had a lot of racing, he's been saved for one day for the last two years so there's not much mileage on the clock.

"He's in good form and we're looking forward to running him, but it's not going to be easy."

McCain has a second string to his bow in Fabalu, who successfully negotiated the National fences when 13th in the two-mile-five-furlong Topham Chase last season.

The 10-year-old returned to action in a veterans' chase over the regulation fences at Aintree in October and McCain expects the longer trip to be more to his liking this time.

"He jumped round there last year but the trip was really too sharp for him in the Topham," he added.

"He's got some form on very soft ground and he's in there with a good racing weight and is in good shape."

West End Rocker was an impressive winner of the race last term and returns to defend his crown off a 5lb higher mark.

The 10-year-old crashed out at the second fence in the National itself, while a subsequent outing in the bet365 Gold Cup saw him pulled up.

Trainer Alan King was heartened by his recent third on his return at Wincanton and is hoping the more relaxed nature of the Becher can see him bounce back to his best.

He told his official website: "Rocker won the race by 22 lengths last year and is only 5lb higher, so if he can reproduce that form he must have a solid chance of staging a repeat.

"Obviously, the National was a big anti-climax.

"He up there in good form, but the whole hullaballoo of the race seemed to get to him, and he got no farther than the second fence,

"The Becher is a different type of race, so, hopefully, he will bounce back.

"We were pleased with his comeback run as Wincanton would not have been his track."

Paul Nicholls will be seeking a fourth Becher success in the last 10 years as he saddles Join Together.

The seven-year-old was third in the Mildmay Novices' Chase at the track in April and was down the field on his return at Ascot last month.

Nicholls said: "Join Together is in good form.

"I was a bit disappointed with him at Ascot but hopefully with different fences and a different day, he will do better.

"I don't think he is particularly well handicapped but he will probably be suited by the fences and, if he is, I will give him an entry in the National."

Daryl Jacob, who rode Neptune Collonges to National victory last term, will be aboard the Nicholls representative.

He said: "Testing ground is ideal for me, he wants it soft as he stays forever.

"He usually jumps well so I'm very much looking forward to it."

David Pipe saddles two runners with Swing Bill and Problema Tic flying the flag for Pond House.

Swing Bill was a winner at Cheltenham last time and finished 10th in the National last season, while Problema Tic was fifth in a Grade Three event at Prestbury Park on his return.

"Swing Bill ran in the race last year (when pulled up) and is not getting any younger. But he ran in the National and seems to like Aintree, although I wouldn't want the ground too soft for him," said Pipe.

"Problema Tic is another who does not want conditions too soft.

"I was pleased with him at Cheltenham on his comeback."

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