Royale Pagaille bids to become the first horse in over 20 years to claim back-to-back victories in the Peter Marsh Chase on Saturday.
Four Cheltenham Gold Cup heroes are among the previous winners of the prestigious handicap, with Little Owl (1981), Bregawn (1982), The Thinker (1987) and Jodami (1993 and 1997) all on the roll of honour.
The last horse to successfully defend the Peter Marsh crown was General Wolfe in 1999 – and his trainer Venetia Williams will be hoping Royal Pagaille can repeat the feat at Haydock this weekend.
The eight-year-old produced a performance of rare dominance 12 months ago, with his 16-length romp earning him a 10lb rise in the weights and tilt at Gold Cup glory.
He returned lame at Cheltenham, but made an encouraging start to the new season when a clear second to Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard in Haydock’s Betfair Chase in November.
A further setback ruled out an intended tilt at the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, but Royale Pagaille will nevertheless be expected to put up a bold showing on his return to Merseyside.
Williams said: “It is nice to know we are going back to a course where he knows his way round there. The top-weight is 11-10 and it is not quite the same – half a dozen pounds less than in a normal handicap, but he is there for a reason, there because of what he has done before.
“He has to give away a lot of weight, but we hope he will go well.”
Richard Hobson’s Lord Du Mesnil bids to bag his fourth big-race victory at Haydock, having previously landed the Tommy Whittle, The Last Fling Chase and the Grand National Trial.
Runner-up in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby last month, the nine-year-old would become the first horse to win the track’s four major staying handicaps over fences, a fact not lost on his trainer.
“He’s come out of his Wetherby run really well and has been given plenty of time to recover from that,” said Hobson.
“It would be nice to do the four-timer, I don’t think anybody has done it in its current guise.
“He just loves Haydock, he’s really at ease with his action there and it’s all about having one speed where he can go in his conditions and keep it up – so the track brings the best out in him.”
Remastered was runner-up to Enqarde in the latest running of the Tommy Whittle five weeks ago after suffering a heavy fall on his previous outing in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.
Trainer David Pipe said: “It was either run here or go to Lingfield on Sunday and we just felt he was probably better off in a handicap.
“We are hoping he will have come on for his last Haydock run. Conditions will suit and he will think he is running loose with the weight he has on his back.
“I don’t think we’ll know how much that fall at Newbury took out of him until after Saturday – I think his performance this weekend will answer that question.
“He came back quickly after that fall and hopefully there’s more to come.”
Empire Steel is a major contender for Borders-based trainer Sandy Thomson.
The eight-year-old was still travelling when falling four fences from home in the Rowland Meyrick, having finished second to Strictlyadancer at Haydock on his previous start.
Thomson said: “He has a nice weight on his back and we’re looking forward to it.
“Whether it was a blessing he came down last time I don’t know, but I think he would have had a very hard race and I don’t think he would be going on Saturday.
“He ran well at Haydock earlier in the season and we’re very happy with him.”
Three course winners in Sam Brown (Anthony Honeyball), Lake View Lad (Nick Alexander) and Sam’s Adventure (Brian Ellison) also feature in a 10-strong field.