When Vieux Lion Rouge lined up at Aintree in the 2016 Grand National, a newfound love affair with the Merseyside course and David Pipe’s gelding was formed.
It would be his first of nine attempts to tackle the unique Aintree fences, producing a strong effort to finish seventh.
His first victory at the course came only eight months later, as the veteran was made favourite for the Grade 3 Becher Chase.
With only Highland Lodge and The Last Samuri ahead in the home straight, Tom Scudamore continued to ask more of the then seven-year-old.
He responded with a burst of energy to catch the leading pair and stole the win in the final strides, landing victory by a short head.
The success threw Pipe’s talent into the Grand National spotlight, which he went off as a 12/1 shot.
The gelding ran well once again, landing a career-best sixth in the contest. It would also be Scudamore’s highest finish in the race in 18 attempts.
After failing to retain his Becher Chase crown (finishing seventh), Vieux Lion Rouge returned to Aintree for his third appearance in the National.
The veteran never threatened to get on terms with winner Tiger Roll, but he finished in the top ten once again, claiming ninth.
Pipe’s runner found himself back at the Merseyside track in December, with another run in the Becher Chase.
He improved the previous season’s result, claiming second behind Robert Walford’s Walk In The Mill.
The 10-year-old’s run of finishing in the first ten runners in the National would come to an end in the 2019 renewal of the jumps showpiece.
He struggled to keep with the leading pack over the final fence, eventually finishing in 15th place.
The gelding also failed to compete in the 2019 Becher Chase, only managing to finish ninth.
With the 2020 Grand National cancelled, it would be a year before the veteran runner would return to Aintree to produce one of his finest performances over fences.
Pipe’s loyal servant rolled back the years with a thundering run in the 2020 Becher Chase, staying on incredibly well from the final fence to win by an eye-catching 24 lengths.
The ride from Conor O’Farrell looked to completely revive the 11-year-old, and they could be partnered up for the National with Scudamore very likely to ride the favourite Cloth Cap.
Could Vieux Lion Rouge churn out one more big effort on his fifth start in the pinnacle event of National Hunt racing?
It’s a tough assignment for the veteran, as there has only been a single 12-year-old winner since 1996 when Amberleigh House won for the legendary Ginger McCain in 2004.
But some trends have come in favour of the gelding. The last six winners of the contest had fallen just once or never before, which David Pipe’s runner has a single unseating of the rider on his CV.
Three of the last 11 winners had also been French-bred, which is where Vieux Lion Rouge originates from.
12 of the last 15 victors had also won over 3m1f or further, which the veteran has on several occasions.
It will take a huge effort from the 12-year-old to land success here, but Vieux Lion Rouge should not be underestimated in this year’s Grand National.