Vieux Lion Rouge emerged as the new Grand National favourite after seeing off Blaklion in the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock.
David Pipe's eight-year-old ran in the Aintree spectacular as a novice last season and finished seventh, before returning in December to win the Becher Chase over the famous birch fences.
Allotted 10st 7lb for the great race earlier in the week, he was sent off at 8-1 behind Nigel Twiston-Davies' Blaklion and the two had matters to themselves for just about the final half a mile.
As the burden of top weight began to tell on Blaklion, Vieux Lion Rouge kept up the gallop to win by three and a quarter lengths and is now as low as 10-1 outright favourite for the National with a few firms. Blaklion was also cut across the boards and is around a 16-1 chance.
"He's changed a lot, as he never used to find much at the end of his races. As a French horse he's quite a late maturer, running in the National last season made a man of him," said Pipe.
"He's going back to Aintree with experience over the fences and he proved today he doesn't need soft ground.
"We can look forward to April now."
Echoing the view of his trainer, jockey Tom Scudamore said: "He never used to finish off his races, but running in the National as a novice made a man of him.
"He was foot-perfect in the Becher and was foot-perfect today. He wasn't the greatest jumper before he ran in the National last year.
"We can head to the National now with confidence and a few pounds up our sleeves, we hope."
Scudamore's father, Peter, is assistant trainer to Lucinda Russell, trainer of One For Arthur, another of the leading National fancies.
Twiston-Davies was far from despondent about Blaklion, saying: "If he wins the National we'll forget he came second here."