Frodon had a stellar season last term which all started in the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase at Aintree.
He is a strong fancy to retain his crown in this 2m 4f limited handicap on Sunday (15:00), because of leading form claims.
This Paul Nicholls trained seven-year-old won four of his five starts in 2018-19. Since scoring by 1 1/4 lengths in this 12 months ago, Frodon has taken his form to a new level.
Bold jumping and brave, front-running displays saw him defy top-weight to land the Casian Caviar Gold Cup and then the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
Following-up on the latter is always a big ask, as the 3m 1f test comes just six weeks before the Festival. Frodon had options in the spring.
His game displays out in front meant connections were tempted by the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but he dropped back in trip and contested the Ryanair Chase instead.
That Festival race was Fordon at his very best. Despite being headed two out, he showed guts and true heart to regain the lead under regular pilot Bryony Frost and prevail up the hill by 1 1/4 lengths from Aso.
It brought the house down at Cheltenham on an emotional day that also saw Paisley Park win the Stayers’ Hurdle.
That Grade 1 success for Frodon sets a clear and obvious standard in the context of his lower grade limited handicap.
Carrying top-weight in last season’s Old Roan Chase was no problem for him. As Frodon also has a good record fresh and a superb partnership with Frost, he can give a stone and upwards all-round to his rivals here.
Frodon is 100/30 with Coral to get his campaign off to a winning start on Merseyside ahead of other targets.
Kalashnikov feared most in Old Roan Chase
The danger is Amy Murphy stable star Kalashnikov – a course and distance winner in novice company here in April.
That Grade 1 victory came in the Manifesto during the Grand National meeting on the six-year-old’s first start at the trip.
Prior to that, Kalashnikov had been a contender for the Arkle after winning his first two chase starts.
The mistakes this Kalanisi gelding made in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad and Kingmaker at Kempton and Sandown respectively raised doubts about his jumping, however.
There were excuses when Kalashnikov unseated in the Arkle, though. He got badly hampered and regular jockey Jack Quinlan had no chance of staying in the saddle.
Despite exclusively racing him over about 2m, connections decided to up Kalashnikov in distance for his final start of last season.
Although again far from flawless with his jumping, he took a major scalp in beating very talented mare La Bague Au Roi.
The runner-up had previously scored back-to-back Grade 1 successes and won all four previous starts over fences. It was a huge step back in the right direction from Kalashnikov.
While there is more scope for him to improve and he’s unexposed over this trip after just six chase starts, Frodon’s usual style of racing makes for a stern test.
Kalashnikov cannot afford to make some of the novicey mistakes against him we saw last term.
Getting 14lb from Frodon means he is respected, however, and the obvious danger if that welter burden proves too much.
Kalashnikov can only justify odds of 2/1 with William Hill for the Old Roan Chase with a fluent round of jumping, so is opposed on that basis.
Bigmartre each-way value
Harry Whittingdon’s sole representative Bigmartre races from 1lb out of the handicap. Connections have booked 3lb claimer Page Fuller to offset that, though.
The eight-year-old beat Cyrname – now rated 176 – in a novices’ handicap at Newbury in 2017. Bigmartre went on to round off that campaign with a Grade 2 success at the Ayr Scottish Grand National meeting.
He is now 1lb lower than when scoring there despite bolting up by 16 lengths at Perth when last in action. Although Bigmartre makes the occasional mistake, he looks each-way value at 12/1 with Betfair here.
Brian Ellison’s Forest Bihan is another Old Roan Chase runner and goes here instead of a 2m handicap chase at Cheltenham.
This eight-year-old Forestier gelding is on a two-year losing run over fences but hasn’t been dropped by the handicapper much.
Forest Bihan has largely raced over 2m in his career to date, so there are stamina question marks.
He has struggled to match his novice form in open company too after landing a Grade 2 at Doncaster in January 2017.
The fine form of Ellison’s Yorkshire yard cannot be ignored, however. Forest Bihan just sneaks into this off joint bottom weight, but isn’t racing from out of the handicap like some rivals.
If staying the trip and electing to put his best foot forward, he is no forlorn hope at Aintree.
More needed from Born Survivor
Another intended runner in the Old Roan Chase is the Dan Skelton trained Born Survivor. This eight-year-old won two Listed handicaps last season and had some interesting form as a novice.
He was a fine third to subsequent King George VI Chase hero Clan Des Obeaux on just his second start over fences.
Born Survivor was lightly-raced during the last campaign with Skelton saving him for the spring and a valuable prize at Ayr’s Scottish Grand National meeting.
The yard has now won that Listed affair in three consecutive years. Born Survivor had earlier lowered the colours of very useful Nicky Richards handicapper Guitar Pete on his return to action at that level around Wetherby.
As the runner-up went on to finish third in the BetVictor Gold Cup and fill the same spot behind Frodon in the Caspian Caviar, the form has a solid look to it.
Finishing fourth to Aso in a Grade 3 handicap at Cheltenham, who chased Frodon home in the Ryanair, also reads well.
Born Survivor – a son of King’s Theatre – does have a 10lb hike in the weights and career high mark of 152 to contend with here, so more is needed.
As he’s more likely to contest the Old Roan Chase than others entered at the five-day stage, hitting the frame is possible at 7/1 with Paddy Power if running up to his revised rating.
Flying Angel represents in-form trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, but will have to run from way out of the handicap. It’s hard to make a case for him on that basis.