Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old has set the winter game alight this season with three Grade One victories to his name and he heads a list of 49 entries for the blue riband event on March 16.
The Ditcheat handler also has Cornish Rebel, Eurotrek, My Will, Neptune Collonges and Sleeping Night engaged in the big race.
A record 14 of the possibles are from Ireland, including War Of Attrition, Hedgehunter and Forget The Past, who were one, two and three respectively 12 months ago. The Irish challenge will also be supplemented by impressive John Durkan Chase winner In Compliance and perennial Gold Cup disappointment Beef Or Samon.
Francois Doumen’s L’Ami was fourth for France in 2006 and he is entered again, along with Take The Stand (fifth), Monkerhostin (sixth) and Sir Rembrandt (seventh).
Jonjo O’Neill’s Exotic Dancer, successful in both the Paddy Power and boylesports.com Gold Cup at Cheltenham already this season, and the Henrietta Knight-trained Racing Demon could again try their luck against Kauto Star having finished second and third respectively in the King George, although they are thought more likely to tackle the Ryanair Chase.
Hennessy winner State Of Play, Welsh National victor Halcon Genelardais and David Pipe’s Our Vic, winner of the Charlie Hall Chase, are also entered.
Since his resounding victory in the Stan James-sponsored King George on Boxing Day, Kauto Star has headed the ante-post markets and despite his failure in the Queen Mother Champion Chase last year, the sponsors will be running for cover if he comes home in front.
“Kauto Star is our biggest loser now and almost certainly will be on the day,” said spokesman Damian Walker.
“A lot will depend on if comes into the race unbeaten and given he fell in the Queen Mother last year, it will be interesting to see if connections run him in the Cotswold Chase (formerly the Pillar) rather than the Aon to give him more experience of the Cheltenham fences.
“Of the others, we laid a lot of big prices prior to State Of Play’s Hennessy win and In Compliance was well-backed before his John Durkan win.
“Obviously we will be hoping for something to come out of the woodwork between now and March.”
The Hennessy winner is likely to go straight for the Gold Cup without another race, however, as trainer Evan Williams is reluctant to run him in the current testing conditions.