Trainer Richard Phillips hopes recent recruit Pak Jack can make it third-time lucky over the Grand National fences when he lines-up for the totesport.com Becher Chase on Sunday.
The seven-year-old has performed with great credit in two previous visits to Aintree, finishing third to Liberthine in the Topham Chase in 2006 before chasing home Scots Grey in last season’s Foxhunters’ Chase.
Pak Jack was bought in the summer by the Bellflower Racing Syndicate as a potential John Smith’s Grand National horse, and the Adlestrop-based handler is happy with the gelding’s progress so far.
“I’m pleased with him. We bought him with the intention to run him over the Aintree fences, as they seem to bring out the best in him,” said Phillips.
“He’s a lovely horse, and we hope he’ll improve with a step up in trip, so we will find out a bit more on Sunday.
“The Grand National is the target, but because he’s rated 130 over fences we need his mark to go up a bit, so we are hoping for a good run in the Becher Chase.
“We ideally want goodish ground on Sunday, but he has some form over hurdles on softish ground in France.
“Richard Johnson, who will ride on Sunday, schooled Pak Jack (on Thursday morning) and he jumped well.”
Pak Jack is 16-1 with the sponsors, who have cut the Paul Nicholls-trained Mr Pointment to 8-1 from 10-1 after strong support.
The champion trainer is seeking his third success in the this race in four years after Silver Birch (2004) and Eurotrek (2006).
He also has Le Duc and Royal Auclair entered.
“Paul Nicholls has firmly established himself as the trainer punters want to be with in the top races,” said totesport spokesman Damian Walker.
“He has such strength in depth that any Nicholls challenger for a big handicap merits the utmost respect and that, allied to his already impressive record in the Becher Chase, may explain the gamble on Mr Pointment.
“Mr Pointment was probably in need of his first run for his new stable at Cheltenham last time and will be a danger to all if he stays this trip.”
Martin Todhunter will leave it late before deciding whether to run Silver Jack in the Becher or the totepool Grand Sefton Handicap Chase on the same card.
“He’s ready to run, but I haven’t decided which race yet,” said Todhunter.
“At the moment he’s got 9st 11lb which would be made up to 10st in the Becher and 11st 6lb in the other.
“If Iron Man (the top weight) came out of the Becher, then obviously the weights would go up.”
Denis O’Regan is looking forward to partnering last year’s Becher runner-up Bewleys Berry after the nine-year-old impressed in a recent schooling session over some National-type fences.
“He jumped super over them so there don’t look like being any ill effects from his fall in the National,” he told At The Races.
“With the way he was going in the National last year, you’d have to say you’d be looking forward to him in the National again this year.
“He jumped them well, he’s in good form and hopefully he’ll run a good race.”
Totesport.com Becher Chase
Sponsors bet: 7-1 Leading Man, 8-1 Bewlwys Berry, Mr Pointment, 10-1 Dunbrody Millar, I Hear Thunder, 12-1 Kandjar D’Allier, 14-1 A New Story, Aka Jake, All right Now M’Lad, Irish Raptor, King Killone, Le Duc, 16-1 Briery Fox, Garvivonnian, Pak Jack, Parkinson, Royal Auclair, 20-1 bar.