One of those to manage the celebrated double was the very horse whose name now adorns this Grade Two prize, and Denman is set to make his first public appearance since his retirement when he parades before the race. The other, of course, was Kauto Star, and Silviniaco Conti has now assumed his position as top staying chaser in the champion trainer’s yard after his victories in the Charlie Hall Chase and Betfair Chase at Haydock. Put away since then, the likely hot favourite faces seven varied rivals over three miles. Speaking in his Betfair blog, Nicholls said he “wouldn’t swap him for any horse in the Gold Cup line-up” although warning there is plenty to work on.
He said: “He is the odds-on favourite but be aware that I have left a lot to work on. I am keen to get a run into him before Cheltenham to fine-tune him. I purposely gave him Christmas off to have a fresh horse at this stage. So fitness-wise, he is probably in a similar place to where he was before he won the Charlie Hall, namely that he is fit enough to do himself justice but he will improve enormously for the run.
“So while defeat here would be disappointing, it wouldn’t be disastrous. Remember, Kauto Star only scrambled home in this race by a neck from L’Ami before winning at Cheltenham in 2007 and Denman unseated his rider at odds of 1-6 before going on to finish second in the 2010 Gold Cup.
“This is a stepping stone to the big one and I see that Timeform don’t have him that much clear of many of this field, even after his Betfair Chase defeat of the subsequent King George winner. But he is in great shape generally and of course I hope and expect him to win, especially in Long Run’s absence. I wouldn’t swap him for any horse in the Gold Cup line-up.”
The Giant Bolster, last year’s Gold Cup runner-up, was beaten seven lengths in third at Haydock and never looked happy when pulled up in the King George, an event David Bridgwater has put down as a one-off. “He’s been in great form and won’t mind the ground,” said Bridgwater.
Tom George unveils an unknown quantity in Mail De Bievre, who has his first start since September 2011, after which he left the care of Jehan Bertran de Balanda.c Menorah, who has been brilliant and frustrating in equal measures for Philip Hobbs, put his best foot forward when landing the rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Kempton last time.
Entered in the Racing Plus Chase and the Ryanair later on, he steps up to the distance for the first time here. “It’s a bit of an experiment to try three miles for the first time,” said Hobbs.
With last year’s winner Long Run heading straight for Cheltenham, Nicky Henderson has just the outsider Master Of The Hall involved. Donald McCain will need to see more from Weird Al than in the Betfair and Argento Chases while Junior and Little Josh, usually seen in handicap company, are required to test their mettle in open class.