Cheltenham regular Aso heads a field of 17 in the Paddy Power Gold Cup after all the five-day confirmations stood their ground
Trained by Venetia Williams, the 10-year-old is without a win since New Year’s Day 2019 but has run several good races in defeat since, including when runner-up to Frodon in the Ryanair that same season.
There are plenty of second-season chasers, who have the potential to mix it in top company, taking him on.
They are led by Harry Whittington’s Festival winner Simply The Betts, beaten just once over fences in five outings last season, and his jockey Gavin Sheehan has won his race for fitness in time to ride him again.
Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher has always been highly regarded and was not beaten far by Samcro in the Marsh Novices’ Chase in March.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Al Dancer was a length behind Mister Fisher in a Grade Two at Doncaster last season and meets that rival on 1lb better terms, having already won this term at Newton Abbot.
Colin Tizzard may feel Slate House has a score to settle in this race, given what happened 12 months ago.
Sent off favourite, despite being a novice, Slate House was coming with what looked like a winning run when falling two from home. He went on to win a Grade One, but his season ended on a flat note.
Tizzard also runs The Russian Doyen.
Happy Diva was a popular winner of the race 12 months ago for Kerry Lee and Richard Patrick – and she continued to progress all through last season, going close behind Simply The Betts at the Festival.
The ante-post market leader for some time has been Paul Nicholls’ Saint Sonnet.
Nicholls could hardly be in better form, and his French import remains hugely unexposed, having had just two runs in Britain. Nicholls also runs Brelan D’As, beaten a neck in this last year.
Siruh Du Lac has his first run for David Pipe, and Dan Skelton’s Spiritofthegames will be aiming to make it ninth time lucky at Cheltenham – while Fidux aims to cap a magical few days for Alan King.
Domaine De L’Isle, Kauto Riko, Pinson Du Rheu, Coole Cody and Sky Pirate also run.