Three key questions to help you find the National Hunt Chase winner
National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders Novices' Chase (Grade 2) | 3m7½f, 5yo+ | RTV
All okay for Corral?
The colours of owner JP McManus have been carried to victory six times in the festival's longest race and all winter Ok Corral has been fancied to make it seven.
Trainer Nicky Henderson was quick to target this contest for amateur riders with a horse whofinished second in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at last year’s festival.
Two wins in four-runner novice chases, at Plumpton and Warwick, where he stayed on well in a Listed event over three miles,have pointed to his potential over further.
Derek O'Connor was on board at Warwick and is eyeing a third success in a race he landed for McManus on Minella Rocco three years ago.
Henderson, who also runs recent Chepstow winner Chef Des Obeaux, said: "I thought Ok Corral was very impressive when he won at Warwick. He didn't exactly shout he wanted four miles that day, but this is the road we were always going down."
He added:"Chef Des Obeaux won at Chepstow on very soft ground over an extreme distance not long ago and he was good to go and do that."
McManus is also represented by the Philip Hobbs-trained Jerrysback, who looked nothing like a future festival winner when finishing a remote fifth on his first start in nearly two years at Cheltenham in November, but he has not been out of the first two on his three starts since.
JP McManus's National Hunt Chase triumphs
1983 Bit Of A Skite
1995 Front Line
2002 Rith Dubh
2007 Butler's Cabin
2015 Cause Of Causes
2016 Minella Rocco
Can the Mullins team follow up last year's win?
Rathvinden did the business for trainer Willie Mullins 12 months ago and he has a strong hand again with Ballyward.
Like Ok Corral, Ballyward has had just two starts over fences, but his defeat of subsequent winner Chris's Dream in a Grade 3 at Naas in January looked particularly impressive as he forged clear up the hill.
Patrick Mullins, successful on Rathvinden, takes over on the Graham Wylie-owned seven-year-old, whose festival form is closely tied with Ok Corral, havingfinished two places behind his main rivalwhen fourth in the Albert Bartlett last year.
Ballyward's trainer Willie Mullins said: "He has run only twice over racecourse fences and while he was a good winner of a Grade 3 three-miler at Naas, his lack of experience is a slight concern.
"With a clear round, we think he has a good chance of getting the marathon distance Patrick is looking forward to riding him."
Can Discorama make amends for his last-fence spill?
Only Blow By Blow got the better of Discorama in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap at last year's festival and the Paul Nolan-trained six-year-old has shown talent over fences too.
A respectable fifth to Delta Work and Le Richebourg in December suggested long-distance trips would be his thing, a theory underlined when he came to challenge Ballyward at Naas only to fall at the final fence.
Nolan, who has booked Barry O'Neill to ride, said: "It's not ideal coming to Cheltenham off the back of a fall, but he seems very well in himself and I'm very happy with him.
"Hopefully, if he can get into a good rhythm and jump the first three or four well, he has a chance. We have a very good pilot on our side and we're hopeful of a good run."
What they say
Gordon Elliott, trainer of Gun Digger
He's in good form but was disappointing last time. We'll have to see how he fares over the trip.
Neil Mulholland, trainer of Impulsive Star
He's got some decent form with Ok Corral from Plumpton earlier in the season and he had to make the running that time, which really didn't suit. He stays very well and if we get the rain and the ground goes soft he's definitely our best chance of the day.
Charlie Longsdon, trainer of Just Your Type
He should have won at Exeter when he was six lengths clear and going away but fell, and the Eider was misleading as well as he got jumped into and lost all momentum. He's a big improver and if he doesn't win a big race this year he will next. He's is a real galloper and hopefully won't get run off his feet early on. He'll love any rain.
Ben Pauling, trainer of Le Breuil
He has Jamie Codd riding, handles the track and is crying out for this trip. He was third to Santini at Newbury and that form alone is very decent. You can write off his run at Haydock last time as he wasn't right. If he can find four or five pounds he'll be very competitive.
Warren Greatrex, trainer of Mulcahys Hill
He's been a work in progress, is going the right way and will stay the trip. I was second in the race with Missed Approach a couple of years ago and this one was a better hurdler. It's a race I like and hopefully he can get into a rhythm.
Henry Daly, trainer of Atlanta Ablaze
We're not sure she'll get the trip because she's not run over it. But the ground and the course will be fine.
Top of the list are last year's Grade 1 Albert Bartlett second Ok Corral and fourth Ballywardwho have made a good transition to chasing at around 3m, but with Ballyward slightly more persuasive now that they are faced by this new trip. Discorama was pretty much alongside Ballyward when falling last time at the final fence. Atlanta Ablaze is tempting given her form and price, while the distance looks a big plus for Chef Des Obeaux.
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