James Moffatt believes Highland Lodge’s performance in the Becher Chase at Aintree on Saturday should be good enough to earn him a place in the Randox Health Grand National back there in April.
The 10-year-old was only touched off on the line by Vieux Lion Rouge in his bid to record back-to-back victories in three-and-a-quarter-mile test over the famous obstacles.
Moffatt felt that effort was better than the one that saw him victorious 12 months earlier when it was his first race since he bought the horse out of Emma Lavelle’s stable.
Highland Lodge missed the cut for National last season, but the Cartmel handler expects him to get a run this time round on the back of that display.
“We were really proud of him on Saturday. Obviously, we’re all in there to win so it hurt for 30 seconds, but the way you have to look at it is that the horse came back after nine months off, so we did that right,” said Moffatt.
“The time of the Becher Chase was 18 seconds faster than last year. I think it was an improved run from last year.
“I’m thinking of the Grand National and that’s where we’re going.
“I think he’ll go up a few pounds now and there’s the Aintree factor as well, so I think he’ll get in. We just missed out last year and that was a better performance. In my mind he’s cemented being a real National horse now.
“He was up 5lb in the Becher from last year and it was a better race this time. In two Becher Chases he’s not made one mistake.
“He hadn’t run since the Scottish National. I think he’s a horse that goes well fresh. My first instincts are to let the dust settle and then train him for the National. It’s only four months away.
“I think less is more with this horse.
“We can get him fit enough at home. Our gallop is seven furlongs long and rises 302 feet from the bottom to the top, so it’s a real pull up the gallop.
“I’m learning about this horse all the time and know much more about how to train him than I did when I first got him just a few weeks before the Becher last year.”
Kim Bailey will take a familiar route with this year’s Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri after earmarking the BetBright Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster as his next port of call.
The eight-year-old will bid for a second successive win in the three and a quarter mile contest on Town Moor on March 5 before attempting to go one better in the Aintree marathon.
After finishing fifth in a Grade One event at Down Royal on his seasonal return last month the Paul and Clare Rooney-owned gelding put in a brave effort on his return to the famous fences at the Merseyside track on Saturday when coming a close third in the Becher Chase.
Bailey said: “I was really impressed with him and it was a wonderful race to watch. He is only 15.3 hands and 11st 12lb was a real anchor.
“I’ve never seen a horse jump those fences as well as he does. He has been there twice now and hasn’t touched a fence. He jumps those fences better than he jumps ordinary ones.
“He won’t run again now most probably until the Grimthorpe Chase. That will be his prep race for the Grand National.
“With Many Clouds being in the race (National) we will be six or seven pounds lower than him so it means we won’t be carrying top weight. Every pound off will make a big difference.”