Bobs Worth: RSA Chase and Hennessy winner heads the Gold Cup marketPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Favourite Bobs Worth among 40 going for Gold
BOBS WORTH, 3-1 favourite with the sponsors for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, headed 40 entires revealed for the Festival highlight on Wednesday.
With the leading protagonists all standing their ground, the March 15 showpiece is shaping up to be a fiercely competitive renewal.
Bobs Worth's stablemate and 2011 hero Long Run, who won a second King George on December 26, is among five entries from Nicky Henderson's Lambourn yard, with Champion Chase winner Finian's Rainbow, Ryanair Chase hero Riverside Theatre and Roberto Goldback completing his formidable team.
Paul Nicholls may have waved farewell to dual Gold Cup winner Kauto Star but he still has a strong hand to play, entering Silviniaco Conti, Tidal Bay, Kauto Stone and What A Friend for the 3m3½f contest.
War Of Attrition was the last Irish-trained winner of the race but no fewer that 12 of the 40 entries hail from Ireland, including 5-1 second-favourite Sir Des Champs, exciting chaser Flemenstar and the consistent First Lieutenant, who like 2006 hero War Of Attrition is trained by Mouse Morris.
Long Run is not the only previous winner in the race, with Imperial Commander - who lifted the crown in 2010 - in the mix for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
An intriguing entry is the Tom George-trained Mail De Bievre, a high-class performer in France who has not been seen in action on these shores.
"He is a very exciting horse to have in the yard and his form in France is the best," said his trainer Tom George. "The plan is to go for the Denman Chase at Newbury with him as that looks a good place to start. Newbury will tell us where we are with him.
"I asked the handicapper, just out of interest, what his mark would be and they said as his last mark in France was 175, they would now rate him 160 due to the time he has been off the track."
Wednesday's other early closing races saw 60 entries for the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on January 26, and 70 entries for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on February 9.
Ballabriggs, Midnight Chase and Rolling Aces are all possibles for the Listed Sky Bet Chase, though Walkon, joint second-favourite with the sponsors at 12-1, is likely to head to Cheltenham on the same day according to trainer Alan King.
King has Grade 1 winner Grumeti entered in the Betfair Hurdle, with Ladbroke winner Cause Of Causes, Olofi and Cotton Mill all possibles for the Grade 3 handicap.