Ante-post favourite Presenting Percy heads a list of 20 horses left in the Magners Gold Cup at the confirmation stage, as he seeks to win at the Cheltenham Festival for the third successive year.
Winner of the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final in 2017 and the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase 12 months ago, Pat Kelly’s eight-year-old has only had one run this season. That was a winning one, but came over the smaller obstacles in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran in January.
Presenting Percy is among 10 Irish-trained acceptors for the blue riband, alongside the Willie Mullins-trained quartet of Kemboy, Bellshill, Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only.
Last year’s winner Native River is one of three runners from the Colin Tizzard stable, in company with Thistlecrack and Elegant Escape.
“They have all done all their work now. I saw all three out this morning before I came to Sandown and they all looked good,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father.
“It is just a case of bouncing them into Cheltenham now. They did up to half-paces out this morning and schooled last week.
“We couldn’t be happier with them. The rain is good and it will certainly help Native River and Elegant Escape. I don’t think it will be desperate by any stretch of the imagination, but we all prefer rained-softened ground to watered ground.
“Dad has been pretty good, it can only go wrong in the last week so we are holding our nerve and hopefully everything will be all right.”
He added: “Thistlecrack has been absolutely fine. It has always been the plan to come straight from Kempton to Cheltenham. He is absolutely fine. He has schooled and done all his work. We are looking forward to running him.
“He was perhaps at his prime when he missed it and he is not getting any younger, but his two runs this year have been very competitive, so why wouldn’t he be able to run well again in the Gold Cup.
“I think Native River is every bit as good as he has ever been. I still think he is at the top of our three going for the race.”
Nicky Henderson is responsible for last year’s runner-up in Might Bite, while Paul Nicholls can call on Clan Des Obeaux, winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, and Frodon.
Henry de Bromnhead is also double-handed through Balko Des Flos and Monalee, who was second to Presenting Percy 12 months ago.
Completing the list are Anibale Fly (Tony Martin), Double Shuffle (Tom George), Road To Respect (Noel Meade), Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies), Yala Enki (Venetia Williams), Definitly Red (Brian Ellison) and Shattered Love (Gordon Elliott).