David Pipe has reaffirmed his belief Grands Crus is a well handicapped horse ahead of his eagerly anticipated return in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
The top-class staying hurdler made a brilliant start to his career over fences last term, completing a hat-trick with a devastating performance in the Feltham Novices' Chase at Kempton, beating the likes of Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth with ease.
He failed to come up with the goods when widely considered as one of the bankers of the Festival in the RSA Chase, but scoped badly after finishing fourth and connections are in confident mood ahead of the first major handicap of the new campaign.
Pipe won the race 12 months ago with the ill-fated Great Endeavour and his father also had an enviable record in the race.
"I have made no secret of the fact that I consider a mark of 157 to be reasonable enough, especially with the likes of Silviniaco Conti franking the form in no uncertain terms in the Charlie Hall Chase," said the Somerset trainer.
"He has always shown plenty of speed so the trip of two and a half miles for him first time up should be ideal – they will be going a good clip and that should help him settle early on. He will be my only runner in the race."
Second in the betting behind Grands Crus is, of course, the incredible Hunt Ball.
Carrying the colours of ebullient owner Anthony Knott, the seven-year-old enjoyed quite a spectacular campaign last season, rising from a mark of just 69 to 157 after winning seven times from nine starts. Knott has been typically bullish in the lead-up to this weekend's contest and trainer Keiran Burke was thrilled after his charge came through his final piece of work with flying colours.
"He did his last serious work today ahead of the Paddy Power and he was very good, as good as gold, and I was very pleased," said Burke.
"He did a piece of work at Richard Barber's and worked very, very well. I rode him and we did 15 furlongs – three times up his gallops with a four-year-old unraced horse.
"I couldn't be happier and he is exactly where we want him before the Paddy Power. He is fresh and well and looking really, really well as well.
"He will now do light canters the rest of the week and we'll freshen him up for Saturday."
Grands Crus and Hunt Ball are among 22 confirmations for the Grade Three prize.
Ditcheat trainer Paul Nicholls holds a strong hand with Cheltenham regular Poquelin heading the weights while Al Ferof, a Grade One-winning novice last term, and Aerial also feature.
Nicky Henderson, Nicholls' big rival for the title this season, could run last year's runner-up Quantitativeeasing, Triolo d'Alene, Tanks For That and Nadiya De La Vega.
Walkon has been well backed in recent days for Alan King while Philip Hobbs has Wishfull Thinking and The Disengager among the possibles.
Calgary Bay could be Mick Channon's first runner in a major race since taking over some of Henrietta Knight's string while Forpadydeplasterer could be well handicapped on his old form.
Paddy Power – sponsors bet: 9-4 Grands Crus, 11-2 Hunt Ball, 8-1 Walkon, Al Ferof, 12-1 Nadiya De La Vega, 14-1 Micheal Flips, 16-1 Divers, 20-1 Aerial, Quantitativeeasing, The Disengager, Tanks For That, Triolo D'Alene, 25-1 Poquelin, Wishfull Thinking, Kingsmere, Calgary Bay, 33-1 Gilbarry, Forpadydeplasterer, Jamsie Hall, Questions Answered, Casey Top, 50-1 Finger Onthe Pulse.