Simon Holt previews Saturday's action at Aintree and Sandown and expects the favourite to deliver in the Randox Health Becher Chase.
In the absence of Douvan, Saturday's big race, the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, looks a good opportunity for Fox Norton to enhance his Cheltenham Festival claims on the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but at odds-on to do so.
Colin Tizzard's classy chaser ought to be able to pick up the front-running Politologue in the closing stages but the race makes little appeal as a betting medium.
With cheekpieces fitted for the first time, Charbel could run well at bigger odds recalling that he was giving Altior a fright before departing two out in the Arkle at Cheltenham last March.
Alternatively, Aintree's Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase appears much more competitive with last year's Grand National fourth BLAKLION heading the market ahead of the 2016 Becher first, second and third Vieux Lion Rouge, Highland Lodge and The Last Samurai.
With a more conservative ride, Blaklion may well have gone close to winning in April as he was still cantering in the lead entering the home straight only to run out of steam and finish fourth behind One For Arthur.
This shorter distance should surely suit this admirably consistent eight-year-old who returned to the fray in Wetherby's Charlie Hall Chase and ran a blinder behind his smart stable-mate Bristol Du Mai, a runaway winner subsequently in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and now a leading Gold Cup contender.
The decision by the handicapper to drop Blaklion 2lb in the ratings following that effort now looks questionable and the distant Wetherby fourth Vieux Lion Rouge needs to make great improvement for the run - and a return to Aintree - to have any hope of turning the tables.
Not surprisingly, the bookmakers are taking few chances with the selection and value hunters may look elsewhere whereas the other approach is to simply back the horse you think will win.
After this race last year, Vieux Lion Rouge went onto beat Blaklion by just over three lengths at Haydock but David Pipe's gelding is not only 5lb worse off with the runner-up now (notwithstanding his heavy Wetherby defeat) but also finds himself substantially worse off with both Highland Lodge and The Last Samurai compared to 12 months ago.
At the weights, both the second and third have every chance of turning the tables but, with the testing conditions possibly not ideal for Highland Lodge this time, The Last Samurai could prove Blaklion's biggest rival despite being asked to carry another big weight.
Kim Bailey's wonderfully game stayer, who finished second to Rule The World in the 2016 National, couldn't repeat that effort in the big one last spring but, according to his trainer, got upset before the race.
However, he returned with a highly encouraging second over hurdles at Kempton last month and, while humping 11st12lb to victory here will need something special, it is hard to see him being too far away especially if he can remain calm during the preliminaries.
Back at Sandown, the traditional Tingle Creek day closer is the Betfair London National in which HOUBLON DES OBEAUX is fancied to follow up his course defeat of Third Intention last month.
The ten-year-old may not be the force of old but, up only 2lb for that success, he still looks remarkably well handicapped when one considers that his third to Native River in last season's Welsh National came off a 10lb higher mark, while at his peak, he was rated 15lb higher.
Judged on his latest win here, there is still plenty of fire in 'Houblon's' belly.
Earlier, FIDUX could gain compensation for his unfortunate defeat over the course and distance last month when rallying just over a length behind Maria’s Benefit (winner since) only to hit a swinging final flight.
Win or lose, Alan King’s charge would have finished well clear of the remainder that day and could be the type to progress this season.
Posted at 1200 GMT on 08/12/17.