Trainer Neil King believes Milansbar is capable of successfully defending his crown in the McCoy Contractors Civil Engineering Classic Chase at Warwick.
The veteran staying chaser was a comprehensive winner of the three-mile-five-furlong marathon last season before going on to finish second in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter and fifth in the Grand National at Aintree.
He finished down the field on his seasonal reappearance at Sandown last month, but King believes that run will have blown away any cobwebs and is expecting an improved performance on his return to Warwick on Saturday.
“I just wonder if there were a couple of things to explain his run at Sandown. One is that he did a little bit too much in front and secondly, maybe he needed the run more than we thought,” said the Marlborough-based trainer.
“He has been in tremendous form all autumn. His jumping wasn’t as fluent at Sandown, but that might be down to it being his first run back after the Grand National.”
Bryony Frost was aboard Milansbar last season and this year he has the assistance of another leading female rider in Gina Andrews, who claims a handy 3lb.
King added: “He was second off a higher mark than he has now when he ran in the Midlands National last season, so I’d like to think it is within his capability (to win again).”
Mark Bradstock is looking forward to running last season’s bet365 Gold Cup hero Step Back.
The nine-year-old makes his first competitive appearance since finishing seventh behind subsequent winners The Young Master, Traffic Fluide and Rock The Kasbah at Chepstow in October.
Bradstock said: “He ran a blinder at Chepstow, looking back at it now. The form has worked out well and the ground was quick enough for him.
“He has problems with flat feet and high muscle enzymes, but he seems in good form.
“Hopefully he’ll run well.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies has two leading contenders in Cogry and Calett Mad.
The trainer’s son Sam Twiston-Davies partners Cogry following his narrow success at Cheltenham in December, with James Bowen taking the ride Calett Mad, who was last seen finishing second under a big weight in the Borders National at Kelso.
“Hopefully they’ve both got good chances and I wouldn’t favour one over the other,” said the Naunton handler.
“Both horses are going there in good form and stay well, so we’ll see what happens”
Neil Mulholland also fires a twin assault, with recent Newbury winner Carole’s Destrier joined by stablemate Impulsive Star.
He said: “It’s probably tough enough to split the two of them and the betting would suggest that as well.
“It was great to see Carole’s Destrier win at Newbury a couple of weeks ago and the ground is right for him, which is why we’re turning him out again so quickly.
“He’s an older horse now and the ground could change in a couple of weeks’ time and then we’d be wishing we’d run him.
“Impulsive Star is in good form and ran well at Plumpton, he was just idling in front.
“I hope both horses will run respectably.”
Other contenders include the Paul Nicholls-trained Ibis Du Rheu, Colin Tizzard’s pair of Sizing Codelco and Ultragold and Duel At Dawn, trained by Alex Hales.