Blaklion looked the most likely winner of the Grand National during this year’s race but faded over the closing stages to finish fourth. The horse is back at Aintree for the Becher Chase which he can win and then go three better in the steeplechase that matters most next spring. Blaklion is trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies who trained the winner of the National in 1998 (Earth Summit) and 2002 (Bindaree).
In the absence of Douvan Fox Norton is the odds-on favourite to win the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown. This is a Grade 1 contest over just under two miles and often identifies one of the best chasers at around two miles. Fox Norton has by far the best form in a small field and can put down a marker for the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival next March by winning at Sandown with something in hand.
Twiston-Davies believes Blaklion is the horse to beat in the Becher Chase which has attracted 16 runners. It is a handicap so bookmakers will settle each-way bets at one quarter the odds for the first four places but some may offer a fifth place leading up to the race. Blaklion is a relatively short price for this type of race but the trainer is confident the horse can deliver. He said in the Racing Post this week:
“Blaklion’s form at Wetherby (when second behind Bristol De Mai) looks good and with a clear run on Saturday I’ll be very excited. The handicapper hasn’t been too hard on him and everything looks perfect. He’s a worthy favourite”.
Trainers don’t always make good tipsters but you can’t ask for a better endorsement of Blaklion’s credentials for this National trial. The horse went too soon this year and didn’t quite stay the trip. One For Arthur stayed on doggedly but Blaklion could reverse the placings in April if held up a bit longer. Three horses have won the Becher Chase and Grand National and Blaklion can embark on becoming the fourth this weekend over three miles and two furlongs at Aintree.
Fox Norton is the best horse in the Tingle Creek Chase but the race has been devalued because Douvan and Un De Sceaux are not taking part. The Willie Mullins trained horses are not making the journey from Ireland and this looks like a penalty kick for Fox Norton. The horse was second behind Special Tiara at the Festival but then won impressively at the other spring festivals at Aintree and Punchestown. Fox Norton has plenty in hand on ratings and cannot be opposed.
For various reasons the Mullins horses won’t be in opposition. The trainer was not happy with Douvan after a piece of work this week and Un De Sceaux will take up an alternative engagement in Ireland. Charbel is an interesting runner in Fox Norton’s race. The horse was going as well as Altior when falling two out in the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham. Altior won the race which suggests Charbel showed sharp form despite not completing the race. However, Fox Norton looks a good thing.
The two feature races this Saturday are key trials for huge races in the spring. It could be a case of both winners in Blaklion and Fox Norton winning the dress rehearsal and the main event because they are leading contenders for the 2018 Grand National and Champion Chase. Saturday will be informative in the context of bigger races to come.