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Fitzgerald Looking for Becher Chase Glory

Irish trainer Davy Fitzgerald could be double-handed in this year’s £120,000 Becher Chase (2.50pm) with both Mister Top Notch and Operation Houdini set to be entered in the prestigious chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree on the second day of the Northwest Racing Masters, Sunday, November 23.

Successful in the Grade One Dr P J Moriarty Novice Chase at Leopardstown in February, 2007, Mister Top Notch beat this year’s John Smith’s Grand National runner-up King John’s Castle in the valuable Pierse Chase at Leopardstown in January and finished fourth over the same course and distance in the Grade One Irish Hennessy the following month.

After falling early on over the Mildmay fences in the totepool Handicap Chase at Aintree during the John Smith’s Grand National Meeting, the nine-year-old ended last season with another fourth at the highest level, finishing behind Neptune Collonges, Snowy Morning and Mossbank in the Grade One Punchestown Gold Cup in April.

Mister Top Notch began this campaign with a staying-on fifth under top-weight in the Kerry National at Listowel on September 17 and produced another excellent weight-carrying performance on his latest start when chasing home Dear Villez in the Munster National at Limerick on October 12.

County Limerick-based Fitzgerald revealed:"We will be making an entry for both Mister Top Notch and Operation Houdini in the Becher Chase and the race is under serious consideration for both horses.

"Mister Top Notch has got several possible targets at the Northwest Racing Masters. He’s been entered in the Betfair Chase and will also be entered in the Betfair "Fixed Brush" Hurdle so we will definitely be coming across for that weekend.

"He was going to have a run in the Grade One Champion Chase at Down Royal at the start of the month but I didn’t want to come up against Kauto Star, although we might have to come up against him anyway at Haydock. We want to find a race that he can win and so we could aim for the Becher Chase instead.

"Denis O’Regan is very bullish about him becoming a serious John Smith’s Grand National horse. It would make up my mind once and for all whether to consider the race if he took to the fences in the Becher Chase and it’s the only chance we will get prior to April.

"He was supposed to run last Sunday in the Grade Two Fortria Chase at Navan but he’s prone to getting stone bruises in his front feet and he was lame yesterday morning but he will be fine.

"It was just one of those things when he fell at Aintree in April - he didn’t get his landing gear out. He’s in grand form at the moment and we will head to the Northwest Racing Masters full of confidence."

Operation Houdini has enjoyed a great autumn campaign, coming second in a Tralee handicap chase in September prior to winning similar contests at Punchestown and Galway the following month.

His latest start at Cork on November 2 saw the six-year-old finish a short-head in front of Alickadoo in the valuable Cork National, but he was demoted to second by the stewards following interference in the closing stages.

Fitzgerald continued: "I was gutted that Operation Houdini was disqualified in the Cork National and I didn’t think that he deserved to lose the race. But it’s over now and we must move on and look towards the future because he could be a very good chaser.

"He’s going the right way and he’s becoming the kind of horse I always thought he would be. He was a weak, backward horse and he’s still only six but he has been very consistent this season.

"We’ve given him three races in quick succession but he’s come out of them well and we will freshen him up prior to a possible run in the Becher Chase. He’s from a family of staying chasers such as Cab On Target and Glenelly Gale, and he’s only just starting to realise his potential.

"He’s a careful jumper and it took him a while for the penny to drop. He kept getting beaten last season because he’s not really a hurdler and there were very few three-mile-plus chases in Ireland. He’s improving all the time and his jumping is getting better with every race. He’s also very versatile with the ground - he’s run well on good to yielding and heavy.

"The Cork National was his target but now we will have a look at the big races in Britain for him, hopefully starting with the Becher Chase. We are hoping that he will make it into a John Smith’s Grand National horse one day and, while there’s still plenty of time for that, I would like to see how he gets on over the fences there."

The Northwest Racing Masters, at Haydock Park and Aintree, offers two of the very best jump racing days of the year.

The Becher Chase, run for the 17th time, takes place over three and a quarter miles and is a good trial for the John Smith’s Grand National on April 4.

The card at Haydock Park on November 22 is entirely sponsored by Betfair and also features the £100,000 Betfair "Fixed Brush" Handicap Hurdle over three miles, as well as the three-mile £50,000 Timeform Betfair Racing Club Handicap Chase and the £50,000 Betfair Hurdle for four-year-olds over an extended two miles.

Total prize money for the day comes to a massive £505,000 - the richest-ever day for jump racing at Haydock Park and an increase of £50,000 on the 2007 figure. Becher Chase day at Aintree is the second and final day of the Northwest Racing Masters weekend on Sunday, November 23. With two races over the famous Grand National fences in the £80,000 totesuper7 Grand Sefton Chase and the £120,000 Becher Chase, there's no need to wait until the John Smith’s Grand National in April to experience the unique thrills of witnessing the spectacle of racing over the Grand National course.

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