GBI RACING

Don Poli tops 28 still in Becher

Don Poli heads the weights for the Becher Chase at Aintree

Don Poli heads 28 horses still in contention for the Randox Health Becher Chase at Aintree on Saturday.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned nine-year-old struck three times at Grade One level when trained by Willie Mullins, including the RSA Chase at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.

He joined Gordon Elliott two seasons ago – and while he failed to fire on his first start for his new trainer at Down Royal, he bounced back to finish second in the Christmas Chase and third in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Don Poli could return from a 664-day absence and tackle the Grand National fences for the first time in this weekend’s feature event on Merseyside, but would carry top-weight of 11st 12lb.

Elliott has also left in Noble Endeavor, Monbeg Notorious and Irish Grand National hero General Principle at Monday’s confirmation stage.

Confirming the intention to run at least two at this stage, Elliott said: “Don Poli and Noble Endeavor could go for the Becher Chase at Aintree on Saturday.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies has last year’s winner Blaklion and the well-fancied Ballyoptic in the mix, as well as Go Conquer and Calett Mad.

Other contenders include 2016 Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri – who could make his debut for Harry Fry after leaving Kim Bailey’s yard – Warren Greatrex’s mare Theatre Territory, the Philip Hobbs-trained Rock The Kasbah and Present Man, trained by Paul Nicholls.

Ante-post favourite Abolitionist is a notable absentee.

Formerly trained in Ireland by Ellmarie Holden, the 10-year-old made a most impressive debut for Grand National-winning trainer Dr Richard Newland over hurdles at Aintree last month.

Explaining his absence from the Becher confirmations, Newland said: “He’s fine – we’ve just decided to take a different route with him.

“He’s having a quietish time at the moment, then we’ll wind him up to have a run in February/March time and then he’ll have an entry for the Grand National for sure.”

One For Arthur, winner of the 2017 Grand National but absent since, is not among the Becher confirmations and instead – as his trainer Lucinda Russell had previously indicated – is on course to make his long-awaited return in the Rewards4Racing Many Clouds Chase on Saturday’s card.

That means keeping the nine-year-old to the smaller Mildmay course fences for his first start in more than 600 days.

Among his possible opponents, with 13 confirmations for the Grade Two race over three miles one furlong, are Charlie Hall Chase winner Definitly Red and The Last Samuri – should connections choose to skip the Becher with him.

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