The Nicky Henderson-trained Long Run emerged the victor in both the King George VI Chase at Kempton and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last term, with Kauto Star only third on each of those occasions.
With Kauto Star now rising 12, some had anticipated his retirement over the summer, but trainer Paul Nicholls insists the dual Gold Cup winner is showing all his old dash at home.
Aside from the two headline horses, a handful of other top-class chasers will be on Merseyside.
Donald McCain’s Weird Al beat the Paul Webber-trained Time For Rupert by just over three lengths in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and that pair renew rivalries. Diamond Harry was also supposed to run in Yorkshire but was a late absentee after banging a leg in his stable. Nick Williams’ charge will be returning from a long absence as he has not raced since winning the Hennessy Gold Cup nearly 12 months ago.
Peter Bowen’s Pure Faith has plenty to find on the ratings but split Albertas Run and Master Minded at Aintree when last seen. As expected, Irish challenger Rubi Light was taken out at the 48-hour declaration stage by trainer Robbie Hennessy and Tom George has decided not to run the ten-year-old Nacarat.
James Reveley, who takes over from Daryl Jacob in the saddle on Diamond Harry having been appointed stable jockey to Williams in the summer, said: “He’s lightly-raced and has lots of ability. He’s still really a second-season chaser because he had his novice year where he didn’t run that often and then had just the one run in the Hennessy.
“Hopefully there’s plenty of improvement in him.”
McCain’s stable jockey Jason Maguire returns to the saddle having been off since August but won’t be riding Weird Al as he is needed to partner Overturn at Ascot, leaving Timmy Murphy to take the ride again following the duo’s Wetherby win.
But Maguire said: “He was a very good novice chaser and some reports have said he looked a bit delicate and his form tailed off last year. But he couldn’t have been any more impressive a couple of weeks ago in the Charlie Hall, so we’re hoping for a big run from him.”
William Hill have Long Run as 4-5 favourite with Kauto Star at 13-2. Spokeswoman Lucy Rhodes said: “Long Run’s stellar CV quite deservedly entitles him to hold a lofty position in the betting. But, if there is at all a chink in his armour, it will be on his seasonal reappearance and he’ll have some promising new rivals to take on, not to mention an old adversary.”