THE SO-FAR untouchable Sprinter Sacre remains the odds-on favourite across the board for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival after the 17 entries received yesterday.
The two major Irish contenders, according to the betting, for the Champion Chase are Flemenstar and Sizing Europe and those two horses also hold engagements in the Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase.
Rubi Light, Realt Dubh and Free World were the other three Irish entries that were put into the mix for the second day feature race with former winner Big Zeb the most high-profile absentee from the list.
Sizing Europe was, in many people's eyes, an unlucky loser in last year's race when confusion over the dolling off of the final fence caused controversy, and he remains on course for the Boylesports.com Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown next month as a prep race for whichever assignment Henry De Bromhead sets him at Cheltenham.
"The Champion Chase is a race we are looking at for Sizing Europe," said the Co Waterford handler.
"He has been entered in the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup too and we just want to keep our options open at this stage.
"He seems in great form at the moment and we have been delighted with his performances this season.
"His win at Clonmel was very impressive."
The 11-year-old put in one of his most impressive performances when winning at Clonmel back in November and then justified long odds-on favouritism when winning the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase in workmanlike fashion last month.
"I'd imagine he will have one more race before the Festival and we are looking at the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown in early February."
The entries for the Ryanair Chase also closed yesterday and as well as last year's winner, Riverside Theatre, there are a total of 38 other entries for the 2m5f heat.
Ryanair entrants Bog Warrior, Call The Police and Roi Du Mee are joined in next Thursday's Kinloch Brae Chase by possible Gold Cup contenders Joncol and Quito De La Roque as connections eye a potential Festival prep race.
Shark Hanlon opted against entering Hidden Cyclone (inset) in the Gold Cup 48 hours ago, but he does feature in the list of 39 for the Ryanair Chase, and Leopardstown is his next port of call.
Hanlon said yesterday: "We are looking at the Ryanair Chase with Hidden Cyclone because I felt he didn't stay three miles at Leopardstown the last day.
"He came out of the Lexus really well but he just got too excited before the race and pulled too hard during it. I think going a stride quicker over two-and-a-half will suit him better."
Hidden Cyclone has always been well-touted by Hanlon and he is three from five over the larger obstacles.
"He goes for the Leopardstown Handicap Chase first and from there he will go for the Ryanair," Hanlon added. "I don't think the track at Cheltenham will hold any fears for him but my only concern would be if the ground came up real quick.
Other notable Ryanair Chase connections include the Mouse Morris pair of First Lieutenant and China Rock, both of whom also have the option of the Gold Cup.