Frodon and Kalashnikov lock horns in a mouthwatering renewal of the Virgin Bet Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase at Aintree on Sunday.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon produced one of the stories of last season when landing the Ryanair Chase in March – making history for his regular partner Bryony Frost as she became the first female to win a Grade One race over jumps at the Cheltenham Festival.
A campaign which also saw him win both the Caspiar Caviar Gold Cup and the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham commenced with him landing this Grade Two event, but he returns to Merseyside 11lb higher in the weights and must concede upwards of a stone to each of his four rivals.
Nicholls said: “He’s in good shape. He’s been to Wincanton to have a gallop with Clan Des Obeaux and they did a nice piece of work.
“You want them ready when they run in these type of races, but I’ve left plenty to work on, as essentially it’s a prep for the Betfair Chase at Haydock (November 23)
“He’s got it all to do at the weights, but he has schooled and is ready to run.
“It’s a whole different ball game this year. It’s not going to be easy giving the weight away, but he’s got to start somewhere.
“It will have to be a fair one to go with him, but Bryony knows how to ride him better than anyone.
“The Betfair Chase has always been his target and that is where we would like to have him at his very best.
“He did progress last year with runs.”
Having rounded off the previous season with a runner-up finish in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Kalashnikov enjoyed a fine novice campaign over fences last term – winning three of his six starts including a Grade One over this course and distance in April.
Trainer Amy Murphy is well aware of the task facing her stable star on his reappearance.
“He’s in good form, but it is a very good race,” said the Newmarket handler.
“I’m under no illusions – Frodon is a very, very good horse and even getting the weight, he’s going to be hard to beat.
“Our horse will come on for the run and isn’t 100 per cent – he will definitely improve for it fitness-wise.
“It’s his first time against the big boys, as it were – his first start out of novice company.
“I’m pleased Aintree put on this good race and we’re looking forward to getting his season started.”
Conditional jockey Page Fuller keeps the ride on Bigmartre, who was last seen winning by 16 lengths at Perth in late April.
“He gets in with a feather weight, obviously, and bolted up on his last run at Perth,” said trainer Harry Whittington.
“We think a flat two and a half miles is ideal for him and Page Fuller, who gets on really well with him, takes 3lb off his back.
“We couldn’t have him in better order and with the trip, track and ground in his favour, we thought it was worth having a go.”
Brian Ellison has his National Hunt string in flying form and is looking forward to saddling Forest Bihan following his comeback third at Kelso three weeks ago.
He said: “We’re stepping him up in trip. We’ve only ever run him once over two and a half and he was probably unlucky not to win that day, so I’ve no qualms about the trip.
“He’s in great form, he was unlucky the first time out when he ran really well. I think he’ll go really well.”
Flying Angel – a winner over the course and distance – completes the line-up for Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies.