Ante-post BetVictor Gold Cup favourite Slate House is one of 25 confirmations for the showpiece race at Cheltenham.
Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old emerged from a spell in the doldrums to win at Cheltenham’s first meeting in October, and has been prominent in the betting for Saturday’s big handicap ever since.
“We had this mind throughout the summer,” said assistant trainer Joe Tizzard.
“Last season, he was out of form because he damaged himself in the novice hurdle at Aintree, so he never got turned out – he was on box rest throughout the summer.
“He was always on a bit of catch-up last season. We felt he ended up getting quite a nice mark, which we possibly lost at Cheltenham last time.
“We thought we would go to Cheltenham first time out and bump into one and not get handicapped accordingly – but it is a good job the performance at Cheltenham was visually very good. We expected him to run well, but not do what he did.”
Topping the weights is Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados, another to win at the October meeting.
Whittington believes a wind operation in the summer has had a big effect after he got back to winning ways first time out.
He said: “There are a number of positives we have taken out of the last race. He is only a six-year-old and he is over 17 hands high, so he is a giant of a horse. He has always been backward physically.
“He really did finish furnishing after a good three months off after the Champion Chase.
“He did extremely well for it and he is more of the finished article now.
“He didn’t have a significant breathing problem – just a small problem there that was causing him to back off in those difficult championship races.
“I think the tweaking of the wind has got to be a big help at that level, just to get them to improve that bit to win a handicap off top weight at Cheltenham.”
Nicky Henderson’s Casablanca Mix, Festival winner Siruh Du Lac and Dan Skelton’s Spiritofthegames are others towards the head of the weights.
Henderson said of his mare: “We’ve only left in Casablanca Mix in the hope that it will continue to dry out a bit. O O Seven is not quite ready for the race.
“She won the Summer Plate at Market Rasen. If it can stay dry that would help. She has gone up in the weights, so she has got to come into races like this.
“She is a good mare. That summer race always takes a lot of winning. She has had a break since then, and been back home.”
Alan King has warned Sceau Royal is an unlikely runner in Sunday’s Shloer Chase if the Cheltenham ground is heavy.
Third in the Champion Chase in March and then second to Altior at Sandown the following month, King has been planning to start his campaign in the Grade Two for some time.
King said: “He will run as long as it is not heavy, but if it is heavy ground, he won’t run and the forecast is not encouraging.
“I want to run him and he is ready, but we know he doesn’t go on heavy.
“If it was soft I think we would let him take his chance, but any worse than that we wouldn’t.
“He is in at Ascot in a handicap, but let’s not worry about that unless we have to miss Cheltenham.
“We have had a lovely run with him and Daryl (Jacob) came in and schooled him last week and he is ready to go.”
Lake View Lad may begin his season with a bid to record back-to back victories in this month’s Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle.
The nine-year-old, trained by Nick Alexander, took the three-mile handicap on his reappearance in 2018 before going on to lift the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day and then finishing third in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Alexander said: “He’s taking his time to get fit.”