Super seven stand in Kauto's way
Kauto Star faces seven rivals as he tries to regain the winning thread in Wednesday's Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup.
The three-mile-one-furlong heat is the highlight of day two of the Festival and Paul Nicholls' veteran performer is on something of a redemption mission after two successive losses.
A shock defeat at the hands of Long Run ended his run of four victories in the King George VI Chase, while he could finish only a distant third behind that rival in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Kauto Star will be making his Punchestown debut at the age of 11 and the Tom George-trainer Nacarat looks to be one of his main rivals following his impressive pillar-to-post victory in the totesport Bowl at Aintree.
Willie Mullins' Gold Cup flop Kempes leads the home defence, along with Edward O'Grady's Tranquil Sea.
Follow The Plan, Rare Bob, Robert6o Goldback and Vic Venturi complete the eight-strong line-up.
Kempes won the Hennessy at Leopardstown in February but he put up no sort of show at Cheltenham, being pulled up four fences from home.
The eight-year-old struck gold at this meeting last year when beating China Rock in the Growise Champion Novice Chase.
Frank Berry, racing manager for owner JP McManus, is hoping he can bounce back to his best this time.
"He was just disappointing on the day at Cheltenham really, it was just one of those things," said Berry.
"Nothing came to light afterwards but he was never travelling and was beaten a long way out. It was disappointing.
"We've given him a break since then and Willie seems to be happy with him so we're hoping for a nice run and to pick up some prize-money with him.
"He ran well when winning here last year so the ground should be fine for him and I'd say he's stepped up another gear since then.
"We're hoping for a nice run."
Some pundits have suggested that Kauto Star is in decline following his two recent defeats, but Berry believes the two-time Gold Cup winner is still the horse to beat.
"Kauto Star has not run a bad race all season really and if he ran back to his usual kind of form, he would just have to turn up to be hard to beat," he added.