Henderson on the Gold trail
Bobs Worth and Long Run spearhead a formidable team of five Nicky Henderson-trained horses among 40 entries for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 15.
The master of Seven Barrows finally claimed the blue riband of National Hunt racing when Long Run emerged triumphant in 2011 and he will head back to Prestbury Park with strong claims of regaining his crown following his thrilling victory in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
However, it is Hennessy Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth that heads ante-post lists, a horse unbeaten in four starts at Cheltenham and a winner at the last two Festivals.
Last season's Champion Chase victor Finian's Rainbow is also in the mix for Henderson along with Ryanair winner Riverside Theatre — owned by Ulster actor James Nesbitt — and Roberto Goldback.
Ireland have not won the Gold Cup since War Of Attrition claimed glory back in 2006, but can call on an extremely strong squad this time around.
Heading the raiding team are Sir Des Champs, who could give champion trainer Willie Mullins his first ever Gold Cup haul, and Peter Casey's exciting Flemenstar.
The latter looked all over the winner in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas and though his stamina gave out after the final fence, owner Stephen Curran is looking forward to seeing his charge tackle three miles for the second time in the Hennessy Gold Cup next month.
Curran said: “He's in great order, but we will make plans for Cheltenham closer to the time.
“He'll be entered in the Queen Mother, the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup, but we are just concentrating on the Hennessy.
“Cheltenham is two months away and you wouldn't know what was going on with the ground by then.”
Curran feels things may have been different in the Lexus had Flemenstar gone for home a little sooner.
“He's a big, long-striding horse and, in hindsight, we should have gone on a mile out,” he said.
“If we'd have done that, he'd have put a lot of the horses in trouble with his jumping, which is his biggest asset. The ground was also hard work the other day, so that was another reason.
“He's still only a baby and still has a great future.”
Although without stable stalwarts Kauto Star and Denman, Paul Nicholls will almost certainly be strongly represented.
Down Royal Festival hero Kauto Stone, Sir Alex Ferguson’s What A Friend, Charlie Hall and Betfair Chase winner Silviniaco Conti and Lexus Chase scorer Tidal Bay are a formidable quartet for the champion trainer.