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Big Guns still in hunt for gold

The build up to this year's Cheltenham Festival increased a couple of notches yesterday as the entries for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup were released with all the big names featuring.

The last two winners of the race, Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere were both on the list of 35 going forward for a chance to win the blue riband event of National Hunt racing.

That pair were last seen finishing last and second last respectively in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown last month and the Noel Meade trained Road To Riches who was victorious in the Lexus Chase is the leading Irish hope according to the bookmakers at 8/1.

WINNER

Meade's Galway Plate winner has just one horse ahead of him in the betting for the final day feature at the Cheltenham Festival with Paul Nicholls' dual King George winner Silviniaco Conti heading the market.

With the Cheltenham Gold Cup being one of the rare major races to be missing from Willie Mullins' portfolio, the champion trainer is responsible for five of the entries and they include last year's runner-up On His Own.

King George disappointment Champagne Fever has been given an entry for the race although the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase are also on his radar while the Mullins team is completed by Boston Bob, Ballycasey and Djakadam.

Paul Nicholls also has five entries with Al Ferof, Black Thunder, Sam Winner and Unioniste joining the current race favourite Silviniaco Conti.

Last season's winning connections of Jim Culloty and Dr Ronan Lambe have also given the 2014 Kim Muir winner Spring Heeled an entry although the Aintree Grand National is said to be his main target for the season.

Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud won the race in 2006 with War Of Attrition and as well as Road To Riches, the owner has Don Cossack and First Lieutenant in the mix.

Of the 35 entries, 13 are Irish-trained and all nine that went to post for the Lexus Chase are entered, with Home Farm, Carlingford Lough and Pat Fahy's Morning Assembly completing the possible Irish contingent.

Writing in his Paddy Power blog yesterday, Ruby Walsh said he was very taken by both the King George and Lexus Chase winners.

"The two most striking performances in the Cheltenham Gold Cup division came from Silviniaco Conti and Road to Riches who won the big races either side of the Irish Sea," Walsh said.

"We know plenty about Conti's King George win and he's a deserving favourite for the Friday feature in March on the form he has shown when winning at Haydock and Kempton.

"But Noel Meade's Road to Riches battled back to win a decent Lexus Chase with two former Gold Cup winners in the field."

Walsh, who rode Boston Bob in the Lexus, was also impressed by stable companion On His Own.

Walsh continued: "On His Own ran a blinder and I was happy enough with Boston Bob who should improve on spring ground. Paul Nicholls' Sam Winner has improved a lot too and was very fit and ready for that contest.

"Barry Geraghty said he was happy enough with Bobs Worth on his seasonal bow while the reigning champ Lord Windermere never runs well at Leopardstown but seems to come to life at Cheltenham."

Cheltenham Gold Cup - Boylesports ODDS: Silviniaco Conti 11/4, Road To Riches 8/1, Lord Windermere 12/1, Holywell 14/1, Bobs Worth 16/1, Many Clouds 16/1, Boston Bob 16/1, Don Cossack 16/1, 20/1 Bar.


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