Vautour tops a record 22 Irish entries for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on March 17th.
The two-mile-five-furlong heat has attracted a total of 48 entries, but Willie Mullins’ Vautour is the headline-grabbing name, although he is also entered in both the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Mullins has a wealth of options in the race, with former Festival scorers Champagne Fever and Sir Des Champs, as well as Punchestown Grade One winner Valseur Lido and exciting mare Vroum Vroum Mag featuring among the initial entries.
Gigginstown House Stud, whose owner Michael O'Leary is chief executive officer of Ryanair, has eight entries, with the highest-rated chaser in training Don Cossack (Gordon Elliott) and dual Grade One winner Road To Riches (Noel Meade) possible runners — though both horses are more likely to run in the Gold Cup.
The home defence is led by Alan King's Hennessy hero Smad Place and the Dan Skelton-trained Al Ferof, who was third behind Cue Card and Vautour in King George VI Chase at Kempton.
Village Vic, a dual course-and-distance winner this season, is one of three entries for Philip Hobbs, while fellow Somerset handler Paul Nicholls has four contenders, led by Vibrato Valtat and Sound Investment.
Vibrato Valtat is set to run at Ascot on Saturday week after finishing third in Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas but a step up in trip could be considered as connections feel he will excel over further.
Dan Downie, racing manager for owners Axom, said: “We have been pleased with Vibrato Valtat since Kempton and he will probably go to Ascot a week on Saturday for the Clarence House Chase.
“He is in the Champion Chase and Ryanair but we are undecided about which we are going for yet. I suppose things like the ground will come in to it.
“We feel that two and a half miles or even further might be his trip, ultimately.”