Reigning champion Al Boum Photo is one of 20 horses still in contention for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup following the latest scratchings deadline for the six non-novice Grade Ones at next month’s Festival.
The eight-year-old provided Willie Mullins with an elusive first victory in the blue riband last March and is clear favourite with most bookmakers to become the first back-to-back winner since Best Mate.
Mullins could also saddle Kemboy – who defeated Al Boum Photo in an epic Punchestown Gold Cup last spring that will forever be remembered as Ruby Walsh’s swansong – as well as Real Steel.
Another leading contender for Ireland is Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work, who has won both the Savills Chase and the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown this season. Henry de Bromhead’s Monalee and Pat Kelly’s Presenting Percy are other potential challengers.
Leading hopes for home team include Nicky Henderson’s Santini, Colin Tizzard’s pair of Lostintranslation and Native River and the Paul Nicholls-trained dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux.
Among the 11 horses scratched are last year’s Irish Gold Cup winner Bellshill and the sidelined pair of Road To Respect and 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup victor Sizing John.
Klassical Dream and Saldier are two of five horses scratched from the Unibet Champion Hurdle, leaving 31 going forward for the feature event on the opening day of the Festival.
The betting is currently headed by Henderson’s mare Epatante and her stablemate Pentland Hills.
The potential Irish challenge still includes De Bromhead’s Irish Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle, while Elliott’s brilliant youngster Envoi Allen retains the option of stepping out of novice company.
Dual winner Altior, Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil have all stood their ground for what promises to be a mouthwatering renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Henderson’s superstar Altior returned to winning ways at Newbury last Saturday, the Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi impressed at the Dublin Racing Festival the previous weekend and Defi Du Seuil has won the Tingle Creek and the Clarence House Chase for Philip Hobbs.
The latter also had the option of running in the Ryanair Chase in the Cotswolds, but has now been scratched from that event, leaving the Champion Chase as his confirmed target.
A Plus Tard, Min, Un De Sceaux and Lady Buttons are also among the 18 still in the mix for the Champion Chase, with Cyrname, Douvan and Footpad among the 13 taken out.
Several of the same horses retain the Ryanair option, including A Plus Tard, Min and Cyrname. Last year’s winner Frodon has also stood his ground, with Riders Onthe Storm and Real Steel also among the 29. Footpad and La Bague Au Roi are two of 15 taken out.
Last year’s winner Paisley Park is very much the headline act in a 29-strong entry for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.
Emma Lavelle’s pride and joy is a short priced favourite to successfully defend his crown and beat the likes of Summerville Boy, City Island and The Worlds End. If The Cap Fits was one of 11 scratchings.
Mullins-trained mare Benie Des Dieux retains the option of both the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.
Her possible rivals should she run against her own sex include Honeysuckle, Apple’s Jade and last year’s winner Roksana.