AWAY from the action at Sandown Park, we get our first look at the Grand National fences on Saturday, with the Becher Chase (1.30pm) and Grand Sefton (3.15pm) both run at Aintree.
A field of 18 have been declared for the former, with the last three winners Blaklion (2017), Vieux Lion Rouge (2016) and HIGHLAND LODGE (2015) all set to try and land the contest for a second time.
Blaklion heads the betting at around 4/1 and the case for him is simple as he is just 5lbs higher than when bolting up in this 12 months ago.
He is unquestionably the one to beat and all the recent rain will also play to his strengths as he handles the conditions so well.
However, this looks a far stronger race than last year, and it will be no easy task lugging 11st 10lbs around here in the mud.
The case for Vieux Lion Rouge is also clear as he goes well fresh and could easily improve for his recent wind surgery.
He is another who has been given a chance by the handicapper at just 4lbs higher than his winning mark back in 2016.
Ballyoptic and Don Poli both look the ideal types for the race but lack the experience over these fences.
Therefore, I’m going to take a chance on Highland Lodge at the age of 12 to roll back the years.
Age seems to be no obstacle in this race with three of the last 8 winners being 12 or older.
In fact, Hello Bud was remarkably 14-years-old when he won his second Becher Chase back in 2012.
This will be the fourth year on the trot that Highland Lodge has reappeared in this race and his form figures of 8123 are not to be sniffed at.
The quality of this year’s renewal means he has to carry just 10st 1lbs and at 16/1 with Coral, he looks worthy of each-way support.
We won’t know the final runners for the Grand Sefton (3.15pm) until later this morning, but I’m keen on the chances of the Colin Tizzard-trained SHANAHAN’S TURN at around 7/1.
Tizzard won the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury last weekend, and this 10-year-old looks a good bet to land him another big pot here.
He shaped with plenty of promise over an inadequate trip at Cheltenham last month, while he races off just 1lb higher than when second on his last start over the National fences.
DEFINITLY RED handled bad ground when winning the Many Clouds Chase (2.05pm) last year and I expect him to repeat that success tomorrow.
He was impressive when beating Black Corton at Wetherby on his reappearance and conditions will be much more to his liking here.
The 13/8 with Ladbrokes should be snapped up as I expect he will start a fair bit shorter than that.
Finally, regular followers of this column will know that I tipped RAMSES DE TEILLEE at Newcastle last Saturday where he was a non-runner.
Connections opted to hold him back for the Coral Welsh Grand National Trial (2.30pm) at Chepstow tomorrow instead and he should be supported.
With plenty of rain about, conditions should be ideal for this Chepstow specialist and he looks the bet of the weekend.
Highland Lodge ew 1.30pm Aintree
Definitly Red 2.05pm Aintree
Ramses De Teillee 2.30pm Chepstow
Shanahan’s Turn ew 3.15pm Aintree