Noel Meade believes Road To Respect is at the top of his game ahead of the defence of his crown in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on Friday.
The seven-year-old claimed his second success at Grade One level when scoring 12 months ago and went on to finish fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and third in the Punchestown equivalent.
He looked better than ever when making an impressive reappearance in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal last month, and Meade reports his charge to have enjoyed the perfect preparation ahead of his latest assignment.
Meade said: “He was very good in the north (Down Royal) and he’s had a trouble-free run since then. We’re very happy with him.
“Everything looks good and we know he likes the track. We’re looking forward to running him.”
The Tu Va handler also saddles the long-absent Disko.
The grey son of Martaline gave weight and a beating to the prolific Ballyoisin at Down Royal in November of last year, but numerous problems have kept him off the track since.
“We’re happy with him, but it’s his first run back and I’m sure he’s going to need it,” Meade added.
Road To Respect and Disko are two of five runners for Gigginstown House Stud, who have claimed this prize in each of the last four seasons.
Henry de Bromhead saddles Ryanair Chase hero Balko Des Flos, while Gordon Elliott runs Outlander – winner of this race in 2016 – and the top-class mare Shattered Love, who was last seen finishing second behind the Willie Mullins-trained Min in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
Gigginstown’s racing manager Eddie O’Leary said: “Road To Respect would look the pick of them. He was very good in the north and has been in good form since.
“We think a lot of the mare (Shattered Love) and she’s back over her right trip (three miles), so hopefully she’ll run well.”
Mullins belatedly claimed this prestigious contest for the first time with Don Poli in 2015 and this year fires a twin assault.
Bellshill appears the champion trainer’s chief hope, making his first start since rounding off last season with victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
The Closutton maestro also saddles the progressive Kemboy, who won his fourth race from seven starts over fences in last month’s Clonmel Oil Chase.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “It’s a fantastic race, it’s going to be very difficult to win it.
“Kemboy is improving all the time, he’s the right age and profile going into this race. He won a big handicap at Punchestown and a Grade Two last time out.
“He’s going to have to step up to Grade One level now, but we’re very happy with him at home and this race will tell us a lot about where we are going at the end of the season.
“We are hoping Bellshill will make up into a Gold Cup horse this year. We do have a slight concern about him going left-handed as his form is better right-handed, but we can see no reason for that.
“Leopardstown hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for him. He got beaten in a bumper, was beaten in a novice hurdle and fell in a novice chase.
“He’s in good form at home and looks fantastic. The form he showed at Punchestown and Fairyhouse in the spring, off an interrupted season, shows the level of ability he has.
“We’re hoping he’s a Gold Cup horse this year.”
Anibale Fly (Tony Martin), Coney Island (Eddie Harty) and Edwulf (Joseph O’Brien) all carry the colours of JP McManus into battle.
De Bromhead’s Monalee completes the 12-strong field.