This year's £160,000 Grade Three Paddy Power Gold Cup has attracted a typically strong entry with a raft of stars among the 44 entries for the highlight of The Open at Cheltenham on Saturday, November 17.
David Pipe captured the prestigious extended two and a half-mile handicap chase last season with Great Endeavour and the Somerset handler could bid to become the first trainer to win back to back renewals since his father Martin in 2004 and 2005.
Pipe's pair of entries are headed by the talented Grands Crus, the current ante-post favourite. The seven-year-old enjoyed a superb first season over fences last term that included a facile victory in the Grade One Feltham Novices' Chase at Kempton and ended with a fourth place in the RSA Chase at The Festival in March. Notus De La Tour, second in the Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown in December, could also represent the master of Pond House.
Hunt Ball was one of the stories of last season, winning seven times for trainer Keiran Burke and colourful owner Anthony Knott including an emphatic victory in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase at The Festival. The seven-year-old acquitted himself well against seasoned opposition on his most recent start, coming home third in the Grade One Betfred Bowl at Aintree's Grand National meeting.
Tipperary jockey/trainer Denis Hogan is hoping that the progressive Kalellshan, one of eight Irish-trained entries, can continue his upward curve over fences at Ascot this Saturday ahead of a potential trip to Cheltenham.
The lightly-raced nine-year-old is unlucky not to be unbeaten in four starts over fences, having won three times and fallen at the final fence when six lengths clear in a Grade Three novices' chase at Roscommon in September, 2009.
After scoring over hurdles at the Galway Festival in July, Kalellshan posted an easy success on his latest appearance in a Killarney handicap chase over an extended two and a half miles on August 31.
Hogan revealed: "Kalellshan is likely to run at Ascot on Saturday in the United House Gold Cup and then the Paddy Power Gold Cup is certainly an option for him.
"He has been in good form since his win at Killarney. We backed off him a little bit after that but I think we have him cherry ripe again.
"He is a nine-year-old now and has low mileage on the clock because of tendon problems but I think he is a really good horse. He is not badly treated on the ratings in Britain and hopefully, with a good round of jumping, he will put up a good show on Saturday.
"His owner is keen to run at Cheltenham and he is ground dependent - the going in Ireland has been too soft for him, which is why we are looking to bring him over to England."
Paul Nicholls, still bidding for a first success in the race, has eight entries including dual Grade One winner Al Ferof , Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle second Edgardo Sol, last year's fourth Aerial, Grade One runner-up Cristal Bonus and course specialist Poquelin.
Nadiya De La Vega may return to Cheltenham after taking the Betvictor.com Handicap Chase at The Showcase on October 20. The six-year-old's trainer Nicky Henderson is also responsible for last year's runner-up Quantitativeeasing, Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase runner-up Tanks for That, Giorgio Quercus and Triolo D'Alene.
Nick Williams has given an entry to For Non Stop, a Grade One winner last term who made an impressive seasonal return with a 23-length victory over Wishfull Thinking in the Grade Two Old Roan Chase at Aintree on October 27.
Other contenders include Menorah, successful in the Grade One Betfred Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree last season, Grade Two Dipper Novices' Chase victor Champion Court and Walkon, who was fifth in the RSA Chase at The Festival in March.
Martin Keighley had intended to run Champion Court at Kempton but he missed that run due to a slight setback and he feels the seven-year-old needs more time to recover from a minor problem but he also has Havingotascoobydo in the big handicap.
Keighley, who trains in nearby Condicote, said: "I would only run one in the Paddy Power Gold Cup as they wouldn't run against each other and it depends on a few things.
"Champion Court has done fantastic over the summer and has had a really long holiday and come back bigger and stronger. He'll have to improve a notch to take on the best but he is improving.
"He may run in the Paddy Power and then go straight for the King George. But there are other options as he was due to run in a graduation chase at Kempton next Monday but has had a very small setback, nothing to worry about, and he won't go there.
"So we've had to change our plans and he'll have his first run either in the Paddy Power or at Ascot the following week.
"Havingotascoobydo had a bad spinal injury last year and needed the run at Cheltenham. He came down the hill as good as anything but hit the second last and might have been a good fourth if it hadn't been for that.
"He'll come on leaps and bounds for that but won't run in the Paddy Power if he's out of the weights, although a couple of pounds would be OK."
The most notable absentee was The Giant Bolster.