Horses To Follow » Vieux Lion Rouge

Vieux Lion Rouge

Vieux Lion Rouge put up a really determined performance to win the Becher Chase at Aintree last Saturday.

Setting off towards the rear of the field and towards the outside, he had jumped and moved his way into a nice position just behind the leaders by the time they got to the winning post first time. He settled into a lovely rhythm from there for Tom Scudamore, he jumped the big fences really well, and he rounded the home turn back onto the racecourse proper travelling well, just behind the leaders. He did come under pressure at the second last and, in truth, it didn’t look like he was going to catch the leader Highland Lodge until they got to the Elbow. The leader probably idled a bit, but Vieux Lion Rouge dug deep and stayed on really well to get up and win by a short head in a really fast time, 0.24secs/furlong faster than Racing Post par.

It was a mammoth effort from David Pipe’s horse. The Becher Chase is a race that is usually dominated by older horses. The average age of the previous 10 winners was 10.2, and there had been no winner aged younger than eight in that time. Vieux Lion Rouge also belied his youth with a fine run in the Grand National last April. He only finished seventh in the end, 48 lengths behind the winner Rule The World, but he ran a lot better than that. He jumped the fences really well, and he travelled well to the home straight before his youth probably took its toll.

You have to go back to Bogskar in 1940 for the last seven-year-old to win the Grand National, so Vieux Lion Rouge did remarkably well in such a gruelling race for one so young. Eight-year-olds have a much better record in the Grand National in recent times than they used to have too. Many Clouds won it as an eight-year-old in 2015 – the first since Bindaree in 2002 – and eight-year-olds filled two of the first four places last season.

Vieux Lion Rouge should be much better equipped for the Grand National next April as an eight-year-old. Also, he could be a well-handicapped horse. The handicapper dropped him 4lb for his National run to a mark of 142, and he raised him just by that 4lb for Saturday’s win. That looks more than fair. It means that, all things being equal between now and then, he will get to race in the National next April off the same mark as the mark off which he raced last April, and that is a mark that gives him a real chance as a one-year-older horse. Also, a mark of 146 means that he really should get into the race safely without the need to run again in order to try to gain a higher mark, and that he should have a nice racing weight.

David Pipe said afterwards that he might leave him off now and train him for the National, take him straight there, and that would be the ideal prep. The Sabiango gelding appears to be at his best when he is fresh. His record on his seasonal debut now reads 11311. He goes well at Aintree, he goes well on a flat track – his best run away from Aintree was at Haydock – and he jumps the big fences well. The 66/1 that was available about him for the National before Saturday is long gone, but the 25/1 that is still widely available looks more than fair.

3rd December 2016