Previous winners Clan Des Obeaux and Kemboy alongside third Gold Cup Protektorate are among nine runners declared for the Betway Bowl at Aintree on Thursday.
Kemboy was a brilliant winner in the Grade One contest in 2019 for Willie Mullins, beating Clan Des Obeaux formed by Paul Nicholls into second place.
The cheek application appeared to have the desired effect for Clan Des Obeaux in last year’s renewal as they clinched gold by 26 lengths, before winning the Punchestown Gold Cup.
The 10-year-old has been beaten twice since and is kitted out in blinders for the first time in defense of his Merseyside crown.
Kemboy has failed to come out on top since claiming a fourth first-grade success at last year’s Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, recently finishing fifth in a bid for back-to-back wins in part of the Dublin Racing Festival in February.
The one to beat on recent form is Dan Skelton’s Protektorat, who were the best of the Brits when third behind pair A Later and Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Indo in last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Conflated, trained by Gordon Elliott, was a surprise Irish Gold Cup winner and looked set to be placed in the Ryanair at Cheltenham before dropping two away from home.
Colin Tizzard’s Eldorado Allen finished third in Ryanair and is another top contender, as is Royale Pagaille after finishing fifth in the Gold Cup for Venetia Williams.
Nigel Twiston-Davies will be praying for rain to give Bristol De Mai the best chance of victory, while Ann Hamilton will bring Nuts Well up in class after a Listed triumph at Kelso. Olly Murphy’s underdog Itchy Feet completes the line-up.
Champion Hurdle second and third Impressive and Zanahiyr renew their rivalry in the Betway Aintree Hurdle. Nicky Henderson’s stunner has won and placed twice in the last three races of the Champion Hurdle and will test the water over two and a half miles for the first time, as will Elliott’s Zanahiyr.
Nicholls saddles both Monmiral and McFabulous, who are both previous winners at Aintree. Brewin’ upastorm (Olly Murphy), Glory And Fortune (Tom Lacey) and Guard Your Dreams (Nigel Twiston-Davies) round out the seven-man squad.
Nicholls will have high hopes for Pic D’Orhy in the first of the first three years of the meeting’s opening afternoon – the rookie pursuit of the Sss Super Alloys manifesto.
The Turgeon gelding has remained fresh since winning the Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton in February and will once again face off against today’s runner-up Millers Bank, trained by Alex Hales.
Erne River has won his last three races for Nick Kent, earning him this step up. Jacamar (Milton Harris), The Widdow Maker (Tizzard), War Lord (Tizzard) and Gin On Lime (Henry of Bromhead) are the other hopefuls.
Cheltenham Festival goalscorer Brazil leads a field of nine four-year-olds ready to go to post for the Jewishson Anniversary 4-YO Juvenile Hurdle.
The youngster from Padraig Roche narrowly thwarted the heavily backed Gaelic warrior in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in the Cotswolds and is certainly worth picking up.
Elliott’s Pied Piper is the obvious danger after finishing third in the Triumph Hurdle, while Jonjo O’Neill saddles French rookie Petit Tonnerre, who made a successful UK debut at Market Rasen.