IRISH horses look up against it in Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup as some of last season's leading novice chasers lead the home team in the Cheltenham showpiece.
The chief among them is Grands Crus, which trainer David Pipe believes is a well-handicapped horse ahead of his eagerly anticipated return.
The top-class staying hurdler made a brilliant start to his career over fences last term, completing a hat-trick with a devastating performance in the Feltham Novices' Chase at Kempton, beating the likes of Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth with ease.
He failed to come up with the goods when widely considered as one of the bankers of the Cheltenham Festival in the RSA Chase, but scoped badly after finishing fourth and connections are in confident mood ahead of the first major handicap of the new campaign.
Pipe won the race 12 months ago with the ill-fated Great Endeavour and his father also had an enviable record in the race.
"I have made no secret of the fact that I consider a mark of 157 to be reasonable enough, especially with the likes of Silviniaco Conti franking the form in no uncertain terms in the Charlie Hall Chase," Pipe stated.
"He has always shown plenty of speed so the trip of two and a half miles for him first time up should be ideal – they will be going a good clip and that should help him settle early on. He will be my only runner in the race."
The four-pronged party from these shores is headed by former Arkle winner Forpadydeplasterer, and while Tom Cooper's charge rarely fails to get some prize money, the 10-year-old could not be described as a potential improver.
Forpadydeplasterer is quoted at 33/1 in the betting, the same price as his three fellow raiders – Jamsie Hall representing Gordon Elliott, Eric McNamara's Questions Answered and Casey Top from the Leonard Whitmore yard.
Second in the betting behind Grands Crus is the incredible Hunt Ball. Carrying the colours of ebullient owner Anthony Knott, the seven-year-old enjoyed a spectacular campaign last season, rising from a mark of just 69 to 157 after winning seven times from nine starts.
Knott has been typically bullish in the lead-up to this weekend's contest and trainer Keiran Burke was thrilled after his charge came through his final piece of work with flying colours.
"He did a piece of work at Richard Barber's and worked very, very well. I rode him and we did 15 furlongs – three times up his gallops with a four-year-old unraced horse," said Burke. "I couldn't be happier and he is exactly where we want him before the Paddy Power."
Paul Nicholls holds a strong hand in the contest with Poquelin heading the weights while Al Ferof, a Grade One-winning novice last term, and Aerial also feature. Nicky Henderson, Nicholls' big rival for the trainers' title this season, could run last year's runner-up Quantitativeeasing, Triolo d'Alene, Tanks For That and Nadiya De La Vega.
Walkon has been well backed in recent days for Alan King, while Philip Hobbs has Wishfull Thinking and The Disengager among the possibles.
Sunday's feature is the Racing Post Handicap Hurdle for which the JP McManus-owned Darlan is the ante-post favourite. Runner-up in last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle before signing off with a win at Aintree, Henderson's five-year-old will have to carry top-weight if he takes his chance.
Cash And Go could make his debut for the Henderson yard, having shown smart novice form with Edward O'Grady. With Alan King's Raya Star withdrawn as expected, joining Darlan at the top of the weights is the Philip Hobbs-trained Snap Tie, which made a remarkable return after well over two years off when winning at the Punchestown Festival in April.
Last weekend's Elite Hurdle runner-up Prospect Wells could be turned out quickly by Nicholls, who also has Ted Spread and Dark Lover in the mix.
Jonjo O'Neill's It's A Gimme is another major contender, while Charles Byrnes is looking forward to sending Domination on the trip from Limerick.
The five-year-old was last seen running away with a Newmarket handicap and is set for a return to the jumping game this weekend. "He's probably got it all to do in a race like this, but we'll go there hoping for the best. We'd like a bit of decent ground for him," said Byrnes.
Paddy Power Gold Cup – Sponsors bet: 9/4 Grands Crus, 11/2 Hunt Ball, 8/1 Walkon, Al Ferof, 12/1 Nadiya De La Vega, 14/1 Micheal Flips, 16/1 Divers, 20/1 Aerial, Quantitativeeasing, The Disengager, Tanks For That, Triolo D'Alene, 25/1 Poquelin, Wishfull Thinking, Kingsmere, Calgary Bay, 33/1 Gilbarry, Forpadydeplasterer, Jamsie Hall, Questions Answered, Casey Top, 50/1 Finger Onthe Pulse.