Star chasers Frodon and Kalashnikov are set for a mouth-watering clash in the £80,000 G2 Virgin Bet Monet's Garden Old Roan Limited Handicap Chase (3.00pm) over two and a half miles at Aintree this Sunday, 27 October.
Frodon (Paul Nicholls) and his charismatic rider Bryony Frost created history in the G1 Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this year, with Frost becoming the first female jockey to win a G1 chase at the four-day extravaganza.
Frodon and Frost began last season with victory in the Virgin Bet Monet's Garden Old Roan Limited Handicap Chase and a memorable campaign also saw them capture the G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and G2 Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
Kalashnikov has Frodon’s Ryanair Chase crown as his long-term objective and Amy Murphy’s stable star will be in receipt of a stone from his more seasoned rival this weekend.
Kalashnikov also excelled over the course and distance last season when defeating top mare La Bague Au Roi in the G1 Devenish Manifesto Novices’ Chase at the Randox Health Grand National Festival in April.
Murphy reported: “The Old Roan is the plan for Kalashnikov.
“He is in very good form and enjoyed his summer holidays. He did well over the summer and we have been pleased with his preparation.
“The Ryanair Chase is the long-term dream, but that is a way off yet.
“Aintree looks a good starting point and we’ll see how he gets on there before mapping out the rest of his season."
The 10 entries for the Virgin Bet Monet's Garden Old Roan Limited Handicap Chase also include the Harry Whittington-trained pair of Bigmartre and Saint Calvados.
A G2-winning novice chaser two seasons ago, Bigmartre ended last season with a 16-length victory in a competitive handicap chase at Perth in April under conditional rider Page Fuller.
Saint Calvados captured a G3 chase at Naas in November prior to finishing third in both the G1 Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park and G1 Dublin Chase at Leopardstown, Ireland. The classy six-year-old has not raced since the G1 Betway Champion Chase at Cheltenham, when seventh behind Altior.
Whittington said: “Bigmartre is an intended runner on Sunday.
“He is in good shape and I could not be happier with his preparation for this race.
“He seems to be more of a flat track horse and the configuration of the Mildmay Course looks ideal for him.
“He obviously won impressively in a lower grade race at the end of last season and we thought we would have a go at a big pot while he is a fresh horse.
“Page Fuller got a great tune out of him at Perth and she will keep the ride.
“Saint Calvados has a couple of options and no decision has been made about where he starts off. All I can say is that he is in good form at home.”
Other high-profile names among the entries include Born Survivor (Dan Skelton), successful in Listed handicap chases at Wetherby and Ayr last season, 2017 G1 Manifesto Novices’ Chase victor Flying Angel (Nigel Twiston-Davies) and Ultragold (Colin Tizzard), a two-time winner of the Randox Health Topham Chase over the Grand National fences.
Forest Bihan (Brian Ellison), Mcgroarty (Dr Richard Newland), who is on a four-timer following handicap wins at Uttoxeter, Stratford and Kelso, and Go Long (Evan Williams) are also engaged.
Declarations for the Virgin Bet Monet's Garden Old Roan Limited Handicap Chase will be made at 10am on Friday, 25 October.
Sunday’s seven-race card could also see the return of 2017 Randox Health Grand National hero One For Arthur (Lucinda Russell) in the £30,000 Play Casino At Virgin Bet Veterans' Handicap Chase (1.50pm, 11 entries) over three miles and a furlong.
Racing starts at 12.40pm and ends at 4.10pm.
The going at Aintree is Good to Soft, Good in places. The outlook is mainly dry and cloudy, though showers are possible on Thursday.