Yorkhill is the headline act among 24 entries for the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on April 16th.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old was an authoritative winner of the JLT Novices' Chase at last week's Cheltenham Festival and would undoubtedly be a hot favourite if putting his unbeaten record over fences on the line on Easter Sunday.
Mullins unsurprisingly has a strong hand, with Bachasson, Bellshill, Great Field and Royal Caviar also among his seven contenders.
Sponsor Michael O'Leary's sole success in the race arrived in 2007 courtesy of the Charlie Swan-trained One Cool Cookie, but Gigginstown House Stud's familiar maroon and white silks are sure to be well represented this year.
Noel Meade’s Road To Respect was one of the most impressive winners at the Cheltenham Festival as he stormed to a six-length success in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase under Bryan Cooper. Meade and Gigginstown also have the option of fielding Flogas Novice Chase winner Disko, who was third behind Yorkhill at Cheltenham.
Other contenders include the Gordon Elliott-trained trio of A Toi Phil, Ball D'Arc and General Principle, Alan Fleming's Festival hero Tully East and Jessica Harrington's Our Duke.
The two British-trained entries are Gary Moore’s Casse Tete and Frodon from Paul Nicholls’ stable.
Ryanair Gold Cup
is always a top-class affair and this year’s renewal is shaping up to be one of the best yet.
“To potentially have three Cheltenham Festival winners in the line-up is a mouthwatering prospect.”
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Labaik has been pencilled in for appearances at both Fairyhouse and Punchestown before the end of the season.
Having refused to race twice in succession on the Flat, Gordon Elliott’s grey looked to have been reformed by a switch to the jumping game when scoring in impressive style at Punchestown and Navan in the autumn.
However, his old problems resurfaced as he failed to jump off in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse and the Navan Novice Hurdle in December and his career looked all but over after he trailed home 100 lengths behind the winner at Naas last month.
But Elliott has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds the six-year-old and he put his best foot forward to run out a brilliant winner of the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser.
Owner Aidan O’Ryan said: “It was a brilliant day and it was just great to see the horse deliver what he’d promised to do. The main thing was getting him to jump off. Once he’d done that, we knew what he was capable of.
“I don’t think there was any fluke about it. It was a good race, Melon was the talking horse going into it and he was second. I went to see him earlier in the week and he seems in very good form and great order.
“I think the plan will be to go for the Grade One novice hurdle in Punchestown, possibly taking in a Grade Two at Fairyhouse along the way.
“He seems good and fresh as although he’s been to the races a few times, he hasn’t had many runs!”