Elegant Escape heads a field of 11 runners declared for the Unibet Grand National Trial at Haydock.
Colin Tizzard’s charge has failed to get his head in front since landing the 2018 Welsh Grand National, but has contested some top-class races – including the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He could only finish sixth when defending his crown at Chepstow in late December, but is nevertheless a leading contender for Saturday’s three-and-a-half-mile feature on Merseyside.
Paul Nicholls relies on Yala Enki, who claimed this prize two years ago when trained by Venetia Williams. The Ditcheat maestro has not declared ante-post favourite Truckers Lodge.
Lord Du Mesnil bids for a fourth consecutive win for Richard Hobson, while Lucinda Russell’s 2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur warms up for another tilt at the Aintree spectacular.
Other hopefuls include Sue Smith’s Peter Marsh Chase winner Vintage Clouds, Nicky Martin’s The Two Amigos, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Charlie Hall Chase victor Ballyoptic and Geronimo from Sandy Thomson’s yard.
The latter was little more than seven lengths behind Vintage Clouds when third in the Peter Marsh four weeks ago.
Thomson said: “It’s a shame Elegant Escape runs, because that leaves us on 10 stone – which means Ryan (Mania) can’t ride him. We’ve booked Sean Quinlan to ride instead.
“We were delighted with his run in the Peter Marsh. I know he’s a nine-year-old, but that was only his seventh run over fences, so he is still inexperienced.
“We could have waited for the Eider at Newcastle next week. But the weights for that could go up, and we decided we’d let him take his chance on Saturday on a low weight.
“He handles heavy ground; the trip will suit him, and he likes Haydock, so he has plenty in his favour.”
Steely Addition (Philip Hobbs), Pobbles Bay (Evan Williams) and Smooth Stepper (Alex Hales) complete the line-up.
Cyrname is set to face just three rivals as he bids to become only the second horse to win back-to-back renewals of the Betfair Ascot Chase.
Only Riverside Theatre, in 2011 and 2012, has successfully defended his crown in Ascot’s Grade One contest over two miles and five furlongs – although Tiutchev, Monet’s Garden and Cue Card have all won it twice.
Cyrname is particularly adept at the course, having won three times there at Saturday’s distance. His latest success came in the Christy 1965 Chase in November – when he ended Altior’s run of 19 victories.
He was beaten by his Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Clan Des Obeaux when stepped up three miles for the first time in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day but will be expected to return to winning ways back over his favoured course and distance.
Nicholls withdrew his other entry, Frodon, at the 48-hour final declaration stage.
The main threat to Cyrname may be Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Riders Onthe Storm, who has won both his starts since being bought out of Tom Taaffe’s stable in Ireland.
Nicky Henderson has taken out Top Notch but will be represented by Janika – while Gary Moore’s Traffic Fluide completes the list of four runners.
The 10-year-old makes his comeback after being off the track since November 2018.
Moore needs to run him so he will be qualified for the Randox Health Grand National.
“We’ll make sure he has a good look at Cyrname’s backside at the start – because he won’t see him for long afterwards, I shouldn’t think!” the West Sussex trainer told Sky Sports Racing.
“I just need to get him round so he qualifies for the National. He’s a spring horse and a good-ground horse – and he’s not going to get that for a while, but I’ve got to run him to get him qualified.
“I don’t want to drag him round over three miles in the handicap with a lot of weight, when he can go round over two-mile-five and have a nice day out and get well paid for it as well.
“He’ll be doing his best, but I’m under no illusions that he can get anywhere near Cyrname.
“He’s the most beautiful horse in the yard and very talented, hence why we’ve mapped this programme out for him – the National has always been his target.”
Saint Calvados, the only other horse left in at the five-day confirmation stage, was not declared by his trainer Harry Whittington.
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