GRANDS CRUS and Hunt Ball are among 22 confirmations for Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham, the first major handicap across the water of the new National Hunt season.
DAVID PIPE'S grey disappointed when only fourth in the RSA Chase at the Festival on his final start of last year, but was subsequently reported to be a sick horse. But connections are in confident mood ahead of Saturday's engagement.
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," the trainer said.
"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."
Hunt Ball was the success story of the season, rising 88lbs in the handicap and finishing third in the Betfred Bowl on his final start of the season for fledgling trainer Keiran Burke.
Paul Nicholls holds a strong hand with Cheltenham regular 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 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.
Calgary Bay could be Mick Channon's first runner in a major race since taking over some of Henrietta Knight's string while Forpadydeplasterer could be well handicapped on his old form.
Hunt Ball came through his last serious piece of work on Monday morning with flying colours and his connections could not be happier.
"He did his last serious work today ahead of the Paddy Power and he was very good, as good as gold, and I was very pleased," said Burke. "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.
"I couldn't be happier and he is exactly where we want him before the Paddy Power. He is fresh and well and looking really, really well as well.
"He will now do light canters the rest of the week and we'll freshen him up for Saturday."