Last year’s winner Magic Circle heads 48 remaining contenders for the SportPesa Chester Cup on Friday.
The Ian Williams-trained seven-year-old carried the colours of owner Marwan Koukash to a runaway victory 12 months ago and was just as impressive when following up in the Group Three Henry II Stakes at Sandown just three weeks later.
He disappointed on his final outing of 2018 when well fancied for the Melbourne Cup, however, and will have plenty on his plate if he does defend his Chester Cup crown as he must concede weight all round.
Magic Circle is one of 14 possible runners for Williams, who also saddled Bulwark to win this prestigious staying prize in 2008.
The Alvechurch-based handler has also confirmed the well-fancied Shabeeb, Speedo Boy and Faithful Mount, among others.
The ante-post betting is headed by Mark Johnston’s Austrian School, who picked up a 3lb penalty for his dominant comeback victory at Musselburgh and is a previous winner at the track.
The Irish challenge is headed by the Willie Mullins-trained Low Sun – winner of the Cesarewitch at Newmarket last season.
Mullins also has Whiskey Sour in the mix, while Tony Martin has five contenders in Mr Everest, Golden Spear, Newcross, Drakensberg and Nibiru.
Other hopefuls include Andrew Balding’s Cleonte and Who Dares Wins from Alan King’s yard.