Delta Work and Presenting Percy lead a five-strong team for Gordon Elliott in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal.
The Cullentra handler has saddled three previous winners of the first Grade One of the Irish jumps season in Roi Du Mee (2013), subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack (2015) and Outlander (2017) – and appears intent on adding to his tally.
The likely favourite on Saturday is Delta Work, who was disappointing when well fancied 12 months ago, but went on to claim a huge Grade One double at Leopardstown in the Savills Chase and the Irish Gold Cup, before finishing fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“Delta Work never got into a rhythm in the Gold Cup and wasn’t beaten that far,” said Elliott.
“He jumped well all season prior to that. Jack Kennedy seems to be the key to this horse – he seems to really travel and do everything right for him.”
Presenting Percy makes his debut for Elliott, after being moved from Pat Kelly’s yard.
The nine-year-old looked every inch a potential Gold Cup winner when dominating his rivals in the 2018 RSA Chase, but he has never quite re-discovered that brilliance since – and was behind Delta Work twice at Leopardstown last term before falling at Cheltenham.
Elliott added: “Presenting Percy is a horse I like, and I’m looking forward to running him.
“I’d seen the horse plenty of times at the races before he arrived here, so I knew enough about him. I was thrilled to get the phone call and I’m very lucky to get him.”
Kennedy has returned from injury in time to renew his partnership with Delta Work, while Denis O’Regan rides Presenting Percy.
The Storyteller (Keith Donoghue), Alpha Des Obeaux (Bryan Cooper) and Ravenhill (Mark Walsh) complete the Elliott quintet.
Few trainers have their horses in better form than Noel Meade, who saddles Snow Falcon and Tout Est Permis in a bid for a third successive victory in the race following the back-to-back triumphs of the currently sidelined Road To Respect.
Meade said: “Snow Falcon is getting on a bit now. But he worked well on Tuesday morning – and so did Tout Est Permis.
“Snow Falcon might find a few of the younger fellows hard to beat, but he’s in good form and goes well fresh.
“We ran Tout Est Permis over hurdles a few times last year because he looked very well handicapped, but it never quite worked out.
“He finished second behind The Storyteller at Punchestown a couple of weeks ago, and I think he’s come on a ton – I think he’ll put up a big show.”
Henry de Bromhead’s pair of Chris’s Dream and Balko Des Flos complete the nine-strong field.
The main supporting race on Saturday’s card is the Grade Two Lough Construction Ltd. Chase, in which Elliott’s dual Cheltenham Festival hero Samcro takes top billing.
The eight-year-old bolted up on his chasing debut over the course and distance last season before ending his campaign with a narrow but memorable victory over Melon and Faugheen in an epic Marsh Novices’ Chase in the Cotswolds.
“We went down the Champion Hurdle route with him a couple of seasons ago, and that didn’t work out, but he didn’t do much wrong last year,” said Elliott.
“He won in Down Royal and then fell in the Drinmore in Fairyhouse when I felt he might have won.
“It was a terrible decision by me to run him in heavy ground at Limerick over Christmas (when second to Faugheen).
“Sometimes you get lured into running in these races because they’re Grade Ones and you want to support them, but he won’t be running in heavy ground this season.
“I’d say he’ll go to Down Royal, then the John Durkan, the Kinloch Brae and then the Ryanair Chase in Cheltenham. He’ll probably have an entry in the King George as well – that’s what I have in my head at the moment.
“He’s in great form.”
Samcro is joined by stable companion Battleoverdoyen, with the Willie Mullins-trained Easy Game appearing the biggest threat.
Jessica Harrington’s Sizing Pottsie and Eamon Delaney’s Yaha Fizz are the other hopefuls.