CREGG HOUSE READY FOR REMATCH WITH HAUT DE GAMME IN totesport BECHER CHASE
Cregg House will bid to make it two wins from three starts over the Grand National fences when he lines up for the £100,000 totesport Becher Chase over three miles, three furlongs at Aintree, the feature event on day two of the North West Masters - Sunday, November 20.
The Shane Donohoe-trained 10-year-old produced a superb round of jumping to capture the prestigious John Smith's Topham Trophy by a length from Haut de Gamme over an extended two miles and five furlongs of the course in April, and his trainer is looking forward to taking in the totesport Becher Chase, where he is likely to meet that rival once again.
Donohoe remarked: "He's an Aintree horse, simple as that. I watched the video of the Topham - not many horses don't touch Becher's. He never actually touched Becher's Brook, which is a big feat. He enjoyed himself so he'll go for the totesport Becher Chase."
That smooth success banished memories of Cregg House's previous attempt over the big fences when he refused four from home behind Monty's Pass in the 2003 Grand National.
The Co Cavan trainer is keen to take Cregg House to the totesport Becher Chase as a prelude to another outing in the John Smith's Grand National next spring: "It seems a silly thing to say about a horse as old as him but he seems a little bit stronger this year. He's a grand old horse and he's in great form. He's an old-type of a horse. At the minute, he's just being trained with either the Topham or the Grand National in mind. He'll go for the totesport Becher Chase and if he happened to go well in that, depending on everything being fine, and if I thought he'd get the trip in the National, he'd go for it."
After a 21-race winless streak going back to a Navan hurdles success in June, 2002, Cregg House was revitalised last season, winning a soft ground, two mile, one furlong handicap chase at Fairyhouse in November before racing to glory under Davy Russell at Aintree.
Donohoe, who rode 12 winners in Ireland and 25 in Britain before turning his attentions to training, said: "He's a funny old horse. He has to do a bit of hunting and he goes to the beach. He's not the simplest old character to keep interested in the game because he's been at it a long time. He gets fed up, so he sort of tells us what he's doing. He can't really run if it's heavy so his options are a bit limited. He'll do very little racing between now and the spring and then he'll do plenty, but he'll have no more than three runs if we're going for the Grand National. He's going lovely right now. I worked him recently and I'm very pleased with him. We'll take it one race at a time with him."
Ferdy Murphy could be double-handed in the £100,000 totesport Becher Chase, with Haut de Gamme heading the challenge.
The Middleham trainer has the prestigious three mile, three furlong contest as the prime autumn objective for Haut de Gamme, second to Cregg House on his only previous attempt at the Grand National fences in the John Smith's Topham Trophy.
The 10-year-old, one and a quarter lengths second to Mister Arjay in a handicap hurdle over an extended two and a half miles at Wetherby on October 29, could be joined in the race by stablemate Ulusaba, a neck victor over Juveigneur in the Stan James Mandarin Handicap Chase at Newbury in December.
Murphy revealed: "The Becher Chase is the race Haut de Gamme is being aimed at. I'm very happy with him after Wetherby. We may run Ulusaba in the race too but we're not sure yet. He needs a run and I think he'll go to Kelso on Saturday and we'll take it from there. He's in good form. We have Haut de Gamme in at Kelso as well, although he seemed pretty alright after the race the other day and in all probability will go straight for the totesport Becher Chase now."
The trainer is hopeful that Haut de Gamme will get conditions to suit at Aintree and is looking ahead to the spring if all goes according to plan: "We couldn't get it deep enough. The deeper the better. If they're swimming - if they've got paddles out there in Liverpool - I'll be one happy bunny, I'll tell you. Aintree rides well, it's usually pretty decent ground.
"This is the big autumn target. It's three miles, three furlongs and if he got that alright then obviously we would look at the John Smith's Grand National for him because he's a very versatile horse and he's got plenty of gears. He was second in the Topham over two miles five furlongs and he's a good horse at around that trip on a park track, so if he did stay then we'd have the option of aiming him at the National later on. He is one of those horses that comes from behind so he'd have a chance at getting the trip."
West Yorkshire trainer Sue Smith has a good record in the Becher Chase, having won the inaugural race in 1992 with Kildimo and was again successful in 2002 with Ardent Scout. Her running plans for that contest are yet to be confirmed but she is almost certain to have a contender in the £60,000 totepool Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over an extended two miles and five furlongs on Sunday, November 20.
Smith said: "Better Days will probably go to the Grand Sefton, which is over the shorter trip. He seems to really enjoy himself around those fences. He's great - he ran at Wetherby on Saturday where he finished third in a hurdle race. That was just to have a nice run and hopefully we're all prepared to go to Aintree."
Better Days was 12 lengths behind Haut de Gamme when third at Wetherby last Saturday. That was the nine-year-old's first start since his ninth in the John Smith's Topham Trophy.
The trainer added: "He's a nice handicap chaser, and, come the April meeting, all being well and everything being the right way, we'll have him in the Topham Trophy. He ran in that race last year and seems to measure those big fences really well."
The totesport Becher Chase and the totepool Grand Sefton Handicap Chase both take place at Aintree on Sunday, November 20, the second day of the North West Masters, the most exciting new weekend of jump racing ever created in Britain.
Thanks to the support of the tote, both races have gone up significantly in value, with the totesport Becher Chase, run over three miles and three furlongs, rising by £25,000 and the extended two mile, five furlong totepool Grand Sefton Chase getting a £10,000 boost.
Haydock stages the initial day of the North West Masters on Saturday, November 19, and the thrilling feature is the new £150,000 Betfair Chase.
The three-mile Betfair Chase is also the initial leg of the Betfair Million, the first £1-million bonus in jump racing, which also involves winning the Stan James King George VI Chase at Sandown on December 26 and the totesport Gold Cup at Cheltenham on March 17.
Haydock also stages the most valuable three-mile handicap hurdle run in Britain, the £70,000 betfairpoker.com Handicap Hurdle, on the same seven-race card which starts at 12.40pm.
Aintree the next day, Sunday, November 20, has another fabulous set of races, headed by the £100,000 totesport Becher Chase and the £60,000 totepool Grand Sefton Chase, both of which take place over the world famous Grand National fences and are being staged on the same day for the first time.