No Red Mills return for Douvan but riveting Duke and Percy clash goes ahead
The wait to see Douvan returning to action goes on after the star chaser was not declared for Saturday's Red Mills Chase, although there is still a great race in store with Our Duke and Presenting Percy clashing at Gowran Park.
Expectation was raised earlier in the week when dual Cheltenham Festival winner Douvan, who has been off the track since suffering a first defeat for Willie Mullins in last year's Champion Chase, received an entry for the Red Mills, but connections have decided not to take part.
Mullins said: "We're very happy with Douvan but after reviewing things last night I decided not to declare him for the Red Mills Chase and that it would be better to prepare him for Cheltenham without running him over two and a half miles on heavy ground. Cheltenham remains the plan."
Mullins added that the Betway Champion Chase remains Douvan's festival target. He also holds an entry for the Ryanair Chase and is a 4-1 non-runner no bet shot for both races.
There is still plenty to get excited about at Gowran as Our Duke aims to book his place in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup field against four Red Mills Chase rivals, headed by RSA Chase favourite Presenting Percy.
In the absence of Douvan, Mullins and owner Rich Ricci turn to Ballycasey, while Gigginstown House Stud pair Valseur Lido and A Toi Phil complete the quintet.
In Britain, a final field of six has been declared for the same day's Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton with a confirmed line-up of Elgin, Cliffs Of Dover, Flying Tiger, Call Me Lord, Cap'N and Ch'Tibello.
Four key clashes on a Saturday brimming with quality in Britain and Ireland
Apparently you can have too much of a good thing and although it would have been great to welcome back Douvan on a Saturday already high on quality, we'll have to make do with what we've got. Here we pick out the key clashes that will define an exhilarating day...
Our Duke v Presenting Percy
2.00 Gowran Park Red Mills Chase
You get the sense this is judgement day in terms of Our Duke's Cheltenham Gold Cup aspirations.
Last season's Irish Grand National winner required treatment for kissing spines after finishing last on his seasonal debut at Down Royal and although positives can be gleaned from his Irish Gold Cup fourth, he really needs to win this to warrant a crack at jump racing's most prestigious prize.
The talk suggests RSA Chase favourite Presenting Percy is the Irish banker for Cheltenham and while he might lack the chasing experience of his rival, he could not be in better form.
Call Me Lord v Ch'Tibello
2.45 Wincanton Betway Kingwell Hurdle
A match-up between exciting potential and proven form with the lightly-raced Call Me Lord taking on seasoned pro Ch'Tibello.
It is not inconceivable Nicky Henderson could have another string to his Champion Hurdle bow if Call Me Lord builds on the promise of his Sandown romp last time.
Ch'Tibello bit off more than he could chew slugging it out with The New One at Haydock last month, but he is 4lb well in with Call Me Lord on official ratings and sets a decent standard.
Blaklion v The Dutchman
3.15 Haydock Betfred Grand National Trial
It is somewhat appropriate that at the end of a week when the Grand National weights were revealed, we get to see the long-time ante-post favourite in action.
Blaklion could not have been any more impressive when winning the Becher Chase and returns to the north west to prep for Aintree in a race he finished second in last year.
Giving 13lb to The Dutchman will be no easy task considering how impressive he was winning the Peter Marsh Chase at the course on similar ground last month.
Top Notch v Waiting Patiently v Coney Island
3.35 Ascot Betfair Ascot Chase
The only Grade 1 on the day as attracted a field dripping with quality with the likeable Top Notch just about holding on to favouritism through the week.
He is certainly heading the right way over fences but the same can be said of Waiting Patiently, who is stepping up in class after winning five times over fences, and Coney Island, who returns to Ascot after an eyecatching victory last time to press forward his Cheltenham claims.
Any race where you can back Cue Card, who seeks an historic third success in the £150,000 contest, at a double-figure price is going to be strong in class and, while it would be folly to totally rule out the 12-year-old, it looks to be between the younger brigade.
Read exclusive previews of Saturday's action from 6pm on Friday on racingpost.com