Cyrname (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden) heads the field for the £150,000 Betfair Ascot Chase (3.35pm), staged over two miles and five furlongs on Saturday.
The Sam de la Hey-owned eight-year-old was imperious when taking the Betfair Ascot Chase by 17 lengths in 2019 and confirmed his liking for Ascot when defeating the mighty Altior by two and a quarter lengths in the G2 Christy 1965 Chase, run over Saturday's distance, in November. Cyrname will be stepping back in trip, having finished runner-up to stable companion Clan Des Obeaux on his first attempt at three miles at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Cyrname has an BHA rating of 177, making him the highest-rated chaser in training in Britain, 2lb clear of Altior. He is the 2/5 favourite with Betfair.
There have been four dual winners of the Betfair Ascot Chase but only one has achieved two victories in successive years - Riverside Theatre (2011 & 2012).
The closest rival to Cyrname in the market is Riders Onthe Storm (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies), Betfair's 3/1 second favourite. The seven-year-old has been a revelation since joining Twiston-Davies this season, landing a valuable handicap chase at Aintree in November and following up with an impressive seven-length victory in the Betfair Exchange Graduation Chase, staged over Saturday's course and distance, on December 21.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: "Riders Onthe Storm is on course for the Betfair Ascot Chase and we are looking forward to running him.
"This race has been the plan since his last win at Ascot and he is in good form.
"It is obviously going to be tough to get the better of Cyrname, but we are going to have a go and are looking forward to the challenge.
"Riders Onthe Storm has been brilliant for us since arriving from Ireland and hopefully there is more improvement to come.
"If Saturday goes OK, then he'll head to the Ryanair at the Cheltenham Festival."
Completing Saturday's line-up are G2 Haldon Gold Cup scorer Janika (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob, 8/1) and Traffic Fluide (Gary Moore/Joshua Moore, 66/1), a G3 winner over three miles at Ascot who will be making his seasonal debut and holds a Randox Health Grand National entry.
Betfair spokesman, Barry Orr, commented today: "Cyrname looks an absolute monster around Ascot and it's very much a home game for him but, Riders Onthe Storm, is one of the most improved chasers in training and, while he still has a lot to find on official ratings, he is improving and punters haven't underestimated his chances."
The Betfair Ascot Chase - Betfair odds: 2/5 Cyrname, 3/1 Riders Onthe Storm, 8/1 Janika, 66/1 Traffic Fluide
The going at Ascot is currently Soft, Good to Soft in places. Saturday's seven-race programme runs from 1.15pm to 4.45pm. Declared runners for the other six races will be known shortly after 10.00am Friday.