Defending champion Minella Indo, last year’s runner-up A Plus Tard and dual winner Al Boum Photo are among 11 runners declared for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Minella Indo saw off stablemate A Plus Tard to cap a memorable week for trainer Henry de Bromhead last season and both return with strong claims despite suffering defeat on their latest outings.
Minella Indo has actually been beaten in each of his three starts this term, but following a listless display in the King George at Kempton, there was far more encouragement to be taken from his runner-up finish in last month’s Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
A Plus Tard made a spectacular start to his campaign in November’s Betfair Chase at Haydock, but he was narrowly denied a second Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas after being caught in the shadow of the post by the Gordon Elliott-trained Galvin, who is once again in opposition.
Like Minella Indo and A Plus Tard, Galvin is already a Festival winner, having proven his stamina with victory in the National Hunt Chase at last year’s Festival.
Following back-to-back Gold Cup wins in 2019 and 2020, the Willie Mullins-trained Al Boum Photo had to make do with minor honours in third when bidding for the hat-trick 12 months ago.
Just as he has in each of the past three years, the 10-year-old has warmed up for Cheltenham with a solitary run and win at Tramore on New Year’s Day.
He is joined by stable companion Tornado Flyer, who burst into the Gold Cup picture with a surprise victory in the King George on Boxing Day and has been kept fresh since.
The talented but error-prone Asterion Forlonge is a third runner for the Mullins team.
The shortest-priced British-trained horse is Dan Skelton’s Protektorat, who has not been seen in competitive action since his runaway success in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree in December.
Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House and his former stablemate Santini, now with Polly Gundry, renew rivalry after finishing first and second in the Cotswold Chase on Festival Trials Day.
The third from that race, Harriet Graham and Gary Rutherford’s northern raider Aye Right, and the Venetia Williams-trained Royale Pagaille complete the line-up.