Long and Kauto going for Gold
Previous winners Long Run and Kauto Star topped the entries for this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup as expected yesterday as they look set to lock horns for the third time this season.
Kauto Star pleased, and shocked, most of the racing fraternity by putting his aging years behind him to claim both the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the King George at Kempton on his only two starts this season.
A total of 34 names were put forward for the Betfred-sponsored Gold Cup, and among them were nine Irish entries.
The Gigginstown Stud-owned Grade One winner Quito De La Roque and last year's RSA winner from the Cheltenham Festival, Bostons Angel, are the top two from these shores.
Willie Mullins has three entries with The Midnight Club, Apt Approach and China Rock, while Dessie Hughes' sole entry is Magnanimity, who is joined by the Mouse Morris-trained China Rock.
The ninth Irish entry is the Gordon Elliott-trained Jessies Dream, who is yet to make his seasonal debut.
Grand Crus has been given the option to step out of the novice ranks at the Festival by his connections and he is actually the current third favourite for the race, while arguably the most surprising entry is apparent two-miler Finian's Rainbow, who, like Long Run, is trained by Nicky Henderson.
Lexus Chase winner and former Welsh National hero Synchronised represents the JP McManus team, while Captain Chris is another notable entry.
Meanwhile, current Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly remains on course to make his eagerly anticipated return to action at the end of the month.
The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old continues to please the champion trainer and therefore will be let take his chance in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle. Hurricane Fly was unbeaten in five Grade One starts last season, landing the Irish Champion Hurdle, the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and rounding off a stellar campaign with victory at Punchestown.
But the French-bred gelding has sidestepped two intended runs already this season, with the champion trainer admitting he had not been pleased with how his star performer had been showing up at home.
An impressive racecourse gallop at Leopardstown last week was considered a major step forward, however, and Mullins is keeping everything crossed that Hurricane Fly is back at the Foxrock venue on January 29.
"He just hadn't been pleasing me in his work and if his work is not good, I'm not happy and he's not running," Mullins said.
"He did please me the other day and hopefully we can build on that. I'm more than happy with him now. With a clear run between now and the 29th, he'll be more or less at his best I hope.
"At the moment I don't see any problem. He did a little bit of work (on Tuesday) and I was very pleased with him. Paul (Townend) rode him out (yesterday) morning and he's 100 per cent."
Mullins also confirmed yesterday that Morgiana Hurdle winner Thousand Stars is likely to remain at the minimum trip for the Cheltenham Festival rather than step up to three miles and face a daunting task against Big Buck's.