Pandorama holds each-way value in wide-open contest
What could well be the last roll of the Gold Cup dice for the Paul Nicholls pair of previous scorers Kauto Star and Denman, plus defending champion Imperial Commander make today's Festival showpiece more than a puzzle.
Whether the old guard, with this trio boasting the last four blue riband triumphs between them, can rise to the challenge has long been the hot topic throughout a season during which last year's hero has mostly been on the sidelines.
Not seen in action since taking the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, Imperial Commander has largely maintained his position at the head of the market because the 11-year-old pair Kauto Star and Denman have managed just one win between them from three runs.
Kauto Star, which took such a heavy fall in last year's renewal, struggled when returning to winning ways at Down Royal that same month and already looked a well-beaten horse when blundering badly two out in the delayed King George at Kempton.
Stable companion Denman ran his usual gallant race under a welter burden when third in Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup a week after the Betfair Chase, but a wind operation followed and this powerful individual has been kept under wraps since.
With a Cheltenham record of six wins from seven visits, Imperial Commander, therefore, would seem the pick of these past scorers to run up to something like his best form today as Ireland's Pandorama, Kempes and China Rock make their Gold Cup debuts.
The expectation of safe ground for the £500,000 showpiece event has swayed Noel Meade towards saddling Pandorama, which suffered a minor setback after his splendid Lexus Chase win at Leopardstown after Christmas.
Kempes, which exited two out that day, was compensated when making the most of Pandorama's absence from a Hennessy Gold Cup that looked sub-standard and saw China Rock finish fourth.
The prevailing going on the easy side of good may just favour Pandorama over Kempes and Meade's charge could be the each-way value in a race that's bound to be run at a proper pace with the progressive Midnight Chase, Long Run and Carruthers involved. The JCB Triumph Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle are the other Grade One contests of the final afternoon and they could prove of particular benefit in turn to the Nicky Henderson-Barry Geraghty partnership.
French import Grandouet looks to have progressed with each outing in Britain and it's no coincid-ence that this pacey sort carries the same colours as last year's Triumph winner Soldatino.
Bobs Worth, successful twice around the track, was withdrawn by Henderson from the Neptune Hurdle to await the longer Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle in the hands of Barry Geraghty.
Rock On Ruby, which Bobs Worth outpaced in their Festival trial, was only nailed close home by First Lieutenant in the Neptune to give the form a boost, so the likes of Gagewell Flyer and Back In Focus face a favourite with a finishing kick.
Last season's scorer Baby Run returns in the Foxhunter Chase. This enthusiastic front runner is bound to take some catching, but he's a veteran and could be picked off late on by Enda Bolger's unexposed On The Fringe.
2.40: Bobs Worth
3.20: Pandorama (each-way)
4.00: On The Fringe
4.40: Sir Des Champs