Altior v Douvan is a heavyweight clash that would be worthy of a pay-per-view subscription in boxing terms, but this titanic equine tussle is our subject of discussion in the next instalment of our 50-day countdown series, which looks at the Tingle Creek Chase, which takes place at Sandown Park on December 9.
However, are we likely to see the Nicky Henderson-trained dual Cheltenham Festival winner Altior take on the multiple Grade One-winning Douvan, who could be handed a much easier assignment on his comeback run, following a shock defeat in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March. I fear not.
Altior A Warm Order
Six wins out of six last season over fences, Altior has quickly taken over the baton from Sprinter Sacre as the Seven Barrows superstar, and the former Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner showed when storming to victory in the Arkle Challenge Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival that he is the next phenomenon off the Nicky Henderson production line.
He was made to work for that Arkle win, as he had still not passed the Kim Bailey-trained Charbel when that front-runner fell at the second last, but having been pushed out by Nico de Boinville on the opening day of the Prestbury Park showpiece, Altior then pulled six lengths clear of Cloudy Dream to notch another graded success over fences.
A facile eight-length win in the Celebration Chase at Sandown Park, where he beat shock Champion Chase winner Special Tiara with aplomb, Altior was then put away for the campaign, and Henderson has already gone on record to say that the Tingle Creek at the start of December will be his first port of call, and it's a race he is currently the 4/6 favourite for with the sponsors Betfair.
Henderson stated that the Queen Mother Champion Chase will be the seven-year-old's main objective this season, but having blossomed over the severe jumping test that is Sandown Park on two previous occasions in his career, then that is where he will start, and he is sure to be sent off at fairly prohibitive odds.
A dominant eight wins out of eight sent Douvan into the Champion Chase as most punter's banker of the week, but having been found to have suffered a stress fracture of the pelvis the Closutton star was put away for the season, and it's only now that Willie Mullins can plan where his class act will return.
Mullins has already indicated that Douvan will be kept over two miles in the early part of the season, with some people speculating he could be a King George VI Chase contender on Boxing Day, but at 13/2 with Betfair for the Tingle Creek Chase, it's hard to see Mullins hand Douvan arguably his toughest career test on his comeback run, so you could see the multiple Irish champion trainer looking to stay on home shores for Douvan's comeback run, which would surely come up against inferior rivals.
Second to Special Tiara in the Champion Chase, Fox Norton then went on to land victory in Grade 1 races at Aintree and Punchestown, and Colin Tizzard's charge, who missed the Tingle Creek last year, is around a 10/1 shot for the 2017 renewal in just over seven weeks, and he is certainly one class act Altior has to face.
If Mullins doesn't send Douvan over for the Tingle Creek then he could still have significant shots to fire at the race and Ryanair Chase winner Un De Sceaux could drop back in trip, while Min, who hasn't been seen since November, could also take his chance, and both those Irish raiders are 10/1 and 12/1, respectively.
Of the others, Paul Nicholls knows what it takes to win this race having saddled eight winners since the turn of the century, and the master of Ditcheat could unleash Politologue, who is 12/1 with Paddy Power, while the abovementioned Charbel, who fell in the Arkle is another in somewhat of a sparse ante-post betting market at this stage.
The Tingle Creek Chase is one of the most exciting races in the National Hunt calendar, as the sheer joy of watching speedy chasers tackle the gruelling jumping test down the back straight at Sandown Park is a thing of beauty, and here are some notable stats to take with you into the race
Official Ratings Of Winners (Since 2000)
Rated 150-154 - One winner
Rated 155-159 - Two winners
Rated 160-174 - Zero winners
Rated 165-169 - Eight winners
Rated 170-174 - Zero winners
Rated 175-179 - Three winners
Rated 180+ - One winner
Age Of Winner (Since 2000)
5-year-old - Three winners
6-year-old - Four winners
7-year-old - Four winners
8-year-old - Two winners
9-year-old - Three winners
10+ - One winner
Most Successful Trainers (Since 2000)
Paul Nicholls - Eight wins
Gary Moore - Two wins
Down Memory Lane
Earlier this year we heard the sad news that Well Chief was no longer with us, and it's with fond memories we remember that stunning David Pipe-trained, David Johnson-owned chaser, and that Pond House star was to be part of one of the finest Tingle Creek Chase races in history.
In 2004, the best of the Irish, Moscow Flyer locked horns with the best of the British in Well Chief and the John Hales-owned Azertyuiop, and what an absolute treat they provided, with Jessica Harrington's Moscow Flyer retaining the Sandown Park title he won in 2003, as he fought off a spirited effort from the home brigade.
Just enjoy the finish of the 2004 Tingle Creek here, which has to be one of the best races since the turn of the century. Enjoy!