Politologue bids to become the sixth dual winner of the JLT Chase at Aintree.
Viking Flagship won back-to-back renewals of the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One better known as the Melling Chase in the 1990s – while Direct Route, Native Upmanship, Moscow Flyer and Voy Por Ustedes have all been victorious twice since.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue notched his second top-level success when seeing off Irish raider Min 12 months ago, and returns at the top of his game for the rematch, after filling the runner-up spot behind the brilliant Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
“He ran incredibly well in the Queen Mother – I would say it was a career-best,” said Nicholls.
“Two and a half miles on a flat track suits him well, so we are looking forward to seeing if he can win the race for the second year running.
“We just changed tactics with him a little bit at Cheltenham. We took our time and told Harry (Cobden) to save him for one go.
“We rode him very positively in the Champion Chase last season, and he was in front from the back of third-last into the straight, so this time we stalked and stalked and had one go at Altior – and it worked very well.
“We probably learnt that day we don’t need to ride him so aggressively.”
Min was widely regarded as the biggest threat to Altior last month, but could only finish fifth.
Trainer Willie Mullins feels the decision to restrain Min was to blame for his below-par performance and hopes he can get back on the winning trail on Merseyside, having been beaten just a neck by Politologue in last year’s renewal.
Mullins said: “I think the change of tactics backfired in Cheltenham, which happens.
“He’s in good form, and I’d imagine we’ll change back to the usual tactics on Friday.”
Ruth Jefferson is looking forward to saddling her stable star Waiting Patiently.
The eight-year-old was blown away by the Nicholls-trained Cyrname when bidding for a second victory in the Ascot Chase in February, and is fitted with cheekpieces for the first time.
Jefferson said: “I walked the course on Tuesday and was happy enough with the ground. I thought it was good to soft, good in places – and there are showers forecast, so hopefully it doesn’t dry out too much.
“He seems in good form, and I think the track will suit.
“He travels well through his races, but at Ascot we just felt he was wandering around at the end of the race more than he had previously – so we’re putting a pair of cheekpieces on him.
“We never found out if he stayed three miles when he got brought down in the King George at Kempton, so we thought the sensible thing to do was to stick to what we know for the time being, rather than run him over three miles in the Bowl.”
Harry Fry’s Champion Chase fourth Hell’s Kitchen, the Nicky Henderson-trained Top Notch, Tom George’s veteran God’s Own – who could also become a dual winner of this race, having taken it in 2016 – and Jessica Harrington’s Woodland Opera complete the field.