Last year’s first three home will meet again in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup as Minella Indo, A Plus Tard and Al Boum Photo featured among 13 confirmations for the blue riband.
Henry de Bromhead capped an unbelievable week 12 months ago when providing the first two home, although Rachael Blackmore had chosen to side with runner-up A Plus Tard – just about the only thing the record-breaking rider got wrong all week.
Blackmore has stayed loyal to Cheveley Park’s eight-year-old this season and they combined to easily win the Betfair Chase at Haydock and were narrowly beaten by Gordon Elliott’s Galvin at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Galvin has continued his progression since winning the National Hunt Chase at last year’s meeting and arrives challenging A Plus Tard for favouritism.
Things have not been as smooth for Minella Indo, who is winless in three outings but showed more of his old sparkle when second to Conflated in the Irish Gold Cup with Robbie Power on board, who is set to maintain the partnership.
The Elliott-trained Conflated remains in the Gold Cup at the latest stage, although he could run in the Ryanair Chase a day earlier.
Willie Mullins had stated his intention to run Al Boum Photo, winner of the race in 2019 and 2020, more often than his usual prep at Tramore on New Year’s Day but a dry winter scuppered those plans and he once again arrives off the back of just one run.
Mullins could also be represented by King George hero Tornado Flyer, Asterion Forlonge and Melon.
The home team is headed by Dan Skelton’s Protektorat, Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House – like Galvin a winner at the 2021 fixture – and the Venetia Williams-trained Royale Pagaille, who was runner-up to A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase. Santini (Polly Gundry) and Aye Right (Harriet Graham) are also set to take their chance.
Mullins and Elliott dominate the leading fancies for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Vauban (Mullins) and Pied Piper (Elliott) met at Punchestown on their hurdling debuts with Pied Piper coming out on top by half a length.
Since then Vauban has beaten Elliott’s Fil Dor in a Grade One at Leopardstown while Pied Piper sluiced up in Grade Two company at Cheltenham.
One who should not be underestimated is Milton Harris’ Knight Salute, unbeaten in five runs over hurdles. The Skelton-trained Doctor Parnassus is also defending an unbeaten record.
Gary Moore’s pair of Porticello and Teddy Blue are other domestic challengers that warrant plenty of respect among the 13 left in.
Henry Daly’s giant Hillcrest and Elliott’s Ginto head 25 in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
De Bromhead’s Shantreusse and Archie Watson’s Stag Horn are interesting contenders at bigger prices, and Tony Martin has supplemented Leopardstown winner Good Tim Jonny.