LAST year’s hero Bobs Worth is one of 36 entries for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup at the Festival on March 14.
Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old came with a powerful run up the hill to claim the blue riband event last March on what was just his second outing of the season.
He kicked off the current campaign with a disappointing run at Haydock, but bounced back to form in typically determined fashion when winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.
Henderson has stated he is likely to head straight for the Gold Cup without another run and given he is unbeaten at the last three Festivals, he appears a worthy ante-post favourite.
The Seven Barrows handler has also entered 2011 winner Long Run and Hennessy winner Triolo D’Alene.
Henderson claimed the trainers’ championship last year from Paul Nicholls and his great rival looks set to pose the biggest threat to Bobs Worth claiming a second crown with King George winner Silviniaco Conti, who was travelling well last year before falling three fences from home.
Having finished third in the Betfair Chase at Haydock behind Cue Card, he outstayed Colin Tizzard's stable star at Kempton on Boxing Day.
The two could clash again although Cue Card is likely to have other options at the Festival also.
Nicholls could also run Al Ferof, third in the King George, Unioniste, Rocky Creek and Tidal Bay.
First Lieutenant is a horse who comes to life in the spring and he has run well at the last three Festivals, including when behind Cue Card in the Ryanair last year.
Having returned to his best in the Lexus when second to Bobs Worth, he may step up in trip for the Gold Cup this year for trainer Mouse Morris.
His owner, Gigginstown House Stud has also entered Bog Warrior, Last Instalment, Dedigout and Roi Du Mee.
Other Irish entries include last year’s RSA winner Lord Windermere, Dessie Hughes' Lyreen Legend and Mount Benbulben while Willie Mullins has given Arvika Ligeonniere, Boston Bob and Rubi Ball the option.
Venetia Williams has entered both Katenko and Houblon Des Obeaux, David Pipe has put in Dynaste, Cloudy Too could run for Sue Smith while The Giant Bolster, second and fourth in the last two years, is in again for David Bridgwater.
Last Instalment one of the leading lights in the staying novice chase ranks around two years ago before being sidelined by injury.
His trainer Philip Fenton is focusing only on his first run back next week in the Kinloch Brae Chase and is keen to see how he fares there before making any plans.
“It’s a bit too early to talk about Cheltenham for Last Instalment, but he will have his first run back in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles (January 16),” said Fenton.
“He has been pleasing in his work so far and everything has gone very satisfactorily with him, but I’m sure he will improve for his first run as we haven't pushed him at home.
Betfred spokesman Andrew Griffiths said: “This year’s Betfred Gold Cup is shaping up to be a clash of the titans with Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti dominating the betting. It has all the makings of a classic and is sure to be one of the highlights of the Festival.”
Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup - sponsors bet: 9-4 Bobs Worth, 7-2 Silviniaco Conti, 8-1 Cue Card, 12-1 First Lieutenant, 16-1 Al Ferof, 25-1 Boston Bob, Lord Windermere, 33-1 bar.