Jim Culloty blamed the ground for Lord Windermere's below-par run in the Lexus Chase over Christmas and all roads still lead to a defence of the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 13th, for which 35 entries have been revealed.
Culloty, who famously won three Gold Cups on Best Mate, appears to have the golden touch as a trainer, too, as Lord Windermere has sprung to life at Cheltenham for the last two seasons, having also won the RSA Chase in 2013.
Yet again Lord Windermere’s form has been below that which he has shown in the spring but Culloty has seen nothing to make him deviate from his long-term objective.
A perfectly respectable return to action over an inadequate two and a half miles was followed by a lacklustre run in the Lexus, although that came on ground much softer than ideal and the Irish Hennessy back at Leopardstown next month remains his plan.
“The Lexus was a bit of a false-run race and he didn’t like the ground, but he came out of it well,” said Culloty. “He’s fine and the Hennessy is next for him.”
Dual King George winner Silviniaco Conti joins Lord Windermere among the possibles for the National Hunt season highlight. Trainer Paul Nicholls said he may send the nine-year-old straight to the blue riband event without another run in the hope it is third-time lucky, having fallen and finished fourth in the last two renewals of the race.
Nicholls has other strings to his bow in the shape of Lexus Chase third Sam Winner, Al Ferof, who is likely to have options over shorter trips at the Festival, Unioniste and Black Thunder.
A win for Nicholls this year would draw him level with Arkle’s trainer Tom Dreaper at five successes in the great race
Bobs Worth won for Nicky Henderson in 2013, but was only fifth last year and finished last in the Lexus on his return this season so needs to bounce back.
Hennessy winner Many Clouds is there for Oliver Sherwood, while last year’s Irish National hero Shutthefrontdoor is among Jonjo O’Neill’s possibles, along with Holywell and Taquin Du Seuil.
Last year's narrow runner-up On His Own, Boston Bob, Champagne Fever, Ballycasey and Djakadam are among five entered by Willie Mullins as he searches for a first Gold Cup victory.
Cue Card, Carlingford Lough, Don Cossack, Road To Riches, Dynaste, Smad Place and The Giant Bolster are others of note, with star novices Kings Palace and Coneygree also holding entries.
Coneygree’s trainer Mark Bradstock has already stated his intention to step into full company at Cheltenham at the end of month, but the RSA Chase for novices is the target. Sara Bradstock, the handler’s wife and assistant, said: “Basically he is being aimed at the RSA at the Festival.”
Silviniaco Conti is 3-1 favourite with the sponsors, with Noel Meade’s Lexus winner Road To Riches next at 8-1.
Betfred spokesman Andrew Griffiths said: “The Gold Cup is the pinnacle of the National Hunt season and we’re thrilled with the quality of this year’s entry. Silviniaco Conti has been firing on all cylinders this season and he justifiably sets the pace in the betting.”