Tizzard: Fox fired up for Douvan face-off
All eyes might be on the returning Douvan at Sandown on Saturday but connections of Fox Norton are hoping that their charge can make the most of his race-fitness advantage over Willie Mullins's superstar in the featured Tingle Creek Chase.
The pair are among 11 entries for the Grade One chase over two miles, which is usually one of the highlights of the season.
Douvan won his first 13 races after leaving France, including successive victories at the Cheltenham Festival in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Arkle Trophy.
He was unbeaten in his first nine appearances over fences, but returned injured after suffering a shock defeat in last season's Queen Mother Champion Chase in March and is set to make his first competitive start since.
Mullins (above) has also entered last year's winner Un De Sceaux, but providing Douvan does make the trip, that one is more likely to contest Sunday's Hilly Way Chase at Cork.
Henry de Bromhead is doubly represented, with reigning Champion Chase hero Special Tiara joined by stablemate Ordinary World.
The Colin Tizzard-trained Fox Norton looked better than ever when comfortably reversing Champion Chase form with Special Tiara in last month's Shloer Chase at Cheltenham and he will again be ridden by Bryan Cooper, according to Tizzard's son and assistant, Joe, who added: "The Betfair Tingle Creek has been the plan for Fox Norton since the end of last season. We had a lovely run on his reappearance at Cheltenham, when he was mightily impressive.
"It will be interesting to see if Douvan comes over or not but we are looking forward to the challenge."
Paul Nicholls has claimed the Tingle Creek on a record nine occasions, with legends Kauto Star and Master Minded both dual winners.
This year the Ditcheat maestro could call upon Haldon Gold Cup winner Politologue. The Gary Moore-trained Ar Mad and Kim Bailey's Charbel are other notable entries.
Meanwhile, Mullins is still to firm up future plans for his exciting chaser Min.
The six-year-old has won five of his six starts since joining Ireland's perennial champion trainer, suffering his only defeat when splitting Altior and Buveur D'Air in the 2016 Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
He returned from almost a year off the track to extend his unbeaten record over fences to three at Gowran last month, but with stablemates Douvan and Djakadam being aimed at Sandown and the John Durkan Punchestown Memorial Chase this weekend, there are no obvious upcoming targets for Min.
"Min won well the other day and we'll have to find a race for him," Mullins told 'At The Races'.
"Whether he goes down the two-mile route or the two-and-a-half-mile route I don't know. We'll just try to keep them all apart as much as we can."
Another Rich Ricci-owned inmate Mullins has high hopes for is high-class mare Benie Des Dieux.
The French import - which made a big impression on her Irish debut at Limerick last December - made a winning return to action in a Listed event at Carlisle on Sunday and Mullins believes there's more to come.
"That was her second run for us and she's bolted up twice," said Mullins.
"I think she's one to keep a good eye out for."