Timeform's Ben Fearnley takes an ante-post look at Saturday's Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown...
"For those keen to take on the odds-on favourite, Fox Norton is the obvious option..."
Both Faugheen and Thistlecrack have emerged from the wilderness in recent weeks and Saturday's Tingle Creek will hopefully mark the return of Douvan, who hasn't been seen since his dramatic defeat at long odds-on in last season's Champion Chase, where he reportedly suffering a pelvic fracture. Unbeaten in all thirteen of his starts for Willie Mullins prior to that, Douvan is 12 lb clear of his nearest rival on Timeform ratings going into the Tingle Creek, and it is safe to say that the race very much revolves around him.
Douvan's current odds - though short - are not as prohibitive as Faugheen's had been for his return from injury in last month's Morgiana Hurdle, reflective of the competitive nature of the Tingle Creek. The contenders for this season's Champion Hurdle are unlikely to clash before the big day itself, but the current field for the Tingle Creek features three of the first five in the ante-post betting for the Champion Chase, with the injured Altior and Min, who reappeared in a low-key race in Ireland last month, the missing pair.
General third-favourite for the Champion Chase and second favourite for the Tingle Creek is Fox Norton, who was beaten a head by Special Tiara in the race in which Douvan was injured. Considering the general form of his yard at the time, that was a valiant effort from Fox Norton, and he improved on that when going one better in the Melling Chase at Aintree next time. He ended the season beating Un de Sceaux (who is entered at Sandown on Saturday as well as in the John Durkan on Sunday) at Punchestown, staying on strongly back down in trip, and returned with a top-class effort to take the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham for the second year running. With Altior side-lined, Fox Norton is the leading home-trained contender for the Tingle Creek.
Paul Nicholls won six Tingle Creeks on the bounce between 2005 and 2010 but has only won the race once since, in 2014 with Dodging Bullets. Politologue is his main chance in this year's race and he made amends for his bizarre departure in last season's Maghull Novices' Chase (tripped and fell after the last, would have won) when taking the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his return. The race rather fell apart around him that day, but his performance was right up there with his best and he should have even more to offer this season, particularly given that he remains lightly raced over two miles.
San Benedeto gave Nicholls a one-two in the Haldon Gold Cup, though it's hard to see him turning that form around, while Sir Valentino was one of three runners who failed to complete that day. He put in a much better effort next time out when winning a handicap off a BHA mark of 159 at Ascot, but that didn't appeal as a strong race of its type, and he is passed over here along with Ar Mad, who was also pulled up at Exeter, marking a pretty underwhelming first start back from injury (though he didn't adopt his usual front-running tactics that day).
With Charbel seemingly having a preferred option in Sunday's Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon instead of this, each-way options are thin on the ground, and overall Douvan will probably prove hard to beat here. For those keen to take on the odds-on favourite, Fox Norton is the obvious option. He'd have plenty to find if Douvan returned at the very peak of his powers, but he'll provide top-class and race-fit opposition to Willie Mullins' star and he gives the impression that he may well have a bigger performance in him yet.