This year’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini and Native River, winner of the 2018 Cheltenham showpiece, are set to clash first time out this season in Aintree’s William Hill Many Clouds Chase.
Saturday’s Grade 2 on the Mildmay course, highlight of a hugely competitive card also featuring two big handicaps over the Grand National fences, brings together three of the highest-rated chasers in training.
Colin Tizzard’s Native River won the race 12 months ago in first-time blinkers, and returns after also bagging Newbury’s Denman Chase last winter but subsequently having to miss Cheltenham because of injury.
Nicky Henderson’s Santini runs for the first time since being beaten just a neck by dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo at Cheltenham.
Frodon, Paul Nicholls’ 2019 Ryanair Chase winner, is officially rated 1lb superior to the 10-year-old Native River and 3lb below his fellow eight-year-old Santini.
They will race off level weights – but Frodon has a possible fitness advantage, having impressed many with a handicap victory over this trip at Cheltenham in October.
Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad and Warren Greatrex’s Keeper Hill complete the field of five.
Walk In The Mill will have 14 rivals as he bids for his third successive Becher Handicap Chase victory.
Robert Walford’s 10-year-old is reopposed by the last two runners-up, Kimberlite Candy from 12 months ago and Vieux Lion Rouge in 2018.
The latter – trained by David Pipe, whose Ramses De Teillee is more prominent in the betting – has a remarkable Aintree record, having won this race in 2016, run over the fences eight times in all and completed on every occasion.
Other major contenders in this year’s renewal include Ben Pauling’s Le Breuil, seventh last year when his yard was not in the best of form, and Nicholls’ pair Yala Enki and Give Me A Copper.
The William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, which closes the card and is run over three furlongs shorter than the Becher at two miles and five, has 19 declarations.
Prominent among them are Alex Hales’ Wetherby Listed winner Huntsman Son, Modus and Sametegal from Nicholls’ powerhouse and – at the top of the weights – Richard Hobson’s possible Grand National candidate Lord Du Mesnil.
Henderson’s Might Bite, runner-up to Native River in the 2018 Gold Cup, makes his debut over the big fences at the age of 11.