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Will Grand National drinks be on Al Co?

November 07, 2014 03:07:09 PM

Peter Bowen will likely get his first indication of whether his talented staying handicap chaser Al Co can handle the daunting spruce fences at Aintree when he runs last season's Scottish Grand National winner at the Merseyside track in December's Betfred Becher Chase.

Pembrokeshire-based Bowen is particularly adept at handling long-distance chasers and worked his magic in some style with Al Co at Ayr in April, the gelded son of Dom Alco stepping up on all previous efforts when faced with the extreme stamina test of nearly four-miles-one-furlong at the west of Scotland circuit.

There wasn't a whole lot to recommend the nine-year-old going in to the big race, Bowen's charge having not been out of action since before the turn of that year when he had only managed to beat one horse home in an 11-runner field in a Doncaster three-mile handicap hurdle, but clearly the mid-season break had done him a power of good and he arrived at Ayr in tremendous shape. Sent off a relatively unconsidered 40/1 shot under Jamie Moore, Al Co was patiently ridden and towards the rear of the 29 runners for much of the contest until he began to pick off his rivals one-by-one going out onto the final circuit.

Racing of bottom weight of 10 stone certainly didn't do him any harm either, and Moore, under instructions from Bowen to keep his horse to the outside (as he doesn't particularly like to be crowded), rode a superb race. Al Co picked up so well inside the final mile that the Sussex-based rider had no option other than to let his mount stride on into the lead – plenty early enough with the long Ayr home straight ahead of them.

As things worked out though Al Co kept finding plenty for pressure and jumped the final line of fences in great style eventually coming home a length-and-a-half clear of Godsmejudge and Trustan Times, despite jinking inside the final furlong when the noise of the crowd might well have affected his concentration.

No sooner had they crossed the line than Bowen was already thinking about a crack at the 2015 Crabbie's Grand National with his big-race winner. Currently offered at 33/1 (although he is currently available to back at 42 on Betfair) for “the world's greatest steeplechase” in the lastest Grand National odds, Al Co is set to get his first taste of the unique challenge of the Aintree circuit in the three-and-a-quarter-mile Becher Chase on December 9.

With no doubts about his stamina for the feature race in April, it's very much a question of just how the thorough stayer will adapt to the big fences. If he takes well to them and runs into a place then he may well advance to be among the ante-post favourites for the £1 million contest. Wary of the fact that his horse doesn't stand too much racing, Bowen has indicated that should all go well in the Becher Chase he may well give Al Co a thorough mid-term break with a view to bringing him back as fresh as possible for the main target event in the spring.

Although he has won on soft ground in the past, good, or good to soft conditions - which have tended to be the norm in recent years at Aintree - would also suit Al Co ideally, and with such a capable handler who has been meticulously planning his assault on the Grand National since his charge's triumph in Scotland last season, there is every reason to believe that, come the big day, Al Co could be a major player in this year's eagerly anticipated race.

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