Cheltenham Gold Cup first and second, Native River and Might Bite, return this Saturday for a scintillating clash in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
The £200,000 Grade has features that Gold Cup duo, last year's winner Bristol De Mai, long-absent 2016 King George VI Chase hero Thistlecrack and the unknown quantity that is Clan Des Obeaux.
Betfair Chase Favourites
Might Bite shades favouritism for the Betfair Chase, over his Cheltenham defeator Native River, owing to ground conditions being drier than they were in March, and to Native River's early-season record.
Native River (3/1 Black Type) is a big lump of a staying chaser, bred in the old-fashioned way to be hardy and determined. It takes a lot to get this eight-year-old fit, and that is evidenced in his performances on his first run each season; in four attempts, he's only won once.
Crucially, that victory was last season's first run, when Colin Tizzard's star had been out of action for almost a full calendar year. It was also the first time he started in a Graded race, usually beginning with a lesser race, then winning his second outing; the main event.
As for ground, he won the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on good to soft, finished third in the 2017 Gold Cup, second in the 2016 National hunt Chase, and won a Grade 1 novice chase in Aintree. I don't think ground or fitness will beat Native River.
Might Bite (Evs Betfair) probably will though. In the Gold Cup he came up against a horse better designed for the war at hand, but he showed his class at Aintree a month later in a race better made for him.
Until last season, he has never won on his first start back, but trainer Nicky Henderson has said that this autumn 'he has been the easiest' of his stars to get fit. On his return last term, he beat Frodon by eight lengths in the Future Stars Chase at Sandown.
At the prices, you would say Native River is the better bet, but on form, he's not, so perhaps it's about the Might Bite-Native River forecast? Consider that bet if you must play a Betfair Chase favourite.
Betfair Chase Longshot
'Longshot' is a strong description in a race with only five runners and one priced in double figures, but perhaps there is a value bet in the Betfair Chase.
Last year's winner Bristol De Mai (7/1 Betfred) is a big price, considering the front-runner is 2/2 at the course, while Thistlecrack (10/1 Coral) has been bigger than 11/10 over fences just once before - and it was in that race he sustained the stress fracture that has kept him sidelined until now.
Thistlecrack could well surprise. Three times he's won after a break of more than 199 days, once after 364 days off the track. It's not impossible for him to be spot-on, the question is will he still be as good?
The better longshot bet could then be Clan Des Obeaux (11/1 Unibet), trainer Paul Nicholls reminding us this week that, 'he is at the same stage of his career as Kauto Star was when he won his first Betfair Chase'.