©Healy Racing Photos
Colin Tizzard reports Cue Card in tip-top shape as the admirable 11-year-old bids to win the Betfair Ascot Chase for a second time on Saturday.
Cue Card lifted this Grade One prize in 2013 on his only previous visit to the Berkshire track.
Since then, he has been campaigned mainly over staying trips and all his runs so far this season have come over three miles.
His latest outing was in the King George VI Chase at Kempton when he was runner-up to his stablemate Thistlecrack.
Tizzard is using this race as a prep for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which Cue Card fell at the third-last fence last March when holding every chance.
"It's a race we've always planned on going to. He's favourite and it's a lovely race for him," said the Dorset handler.
"He's been pretty effective over two-miles-five all his life. It doesn't hold any fears and I'm looking forward to running him.
"Everything's gone fine. Paddy (Brennan) came in and schooled him this week.
"We've taken him out of the Ryanair as we didn't want to think about it. We're going for this and then the Gold Cup, all being well."
Cue Card has quite a bit in hand of his rivals at the ratings and they include Irish Cavalier, who had the Tizzard star back in third when winning the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October.
However, he has failed to live up to that form in two races since then.
Trainer Rebecca Curtis does not expect the eight-year-old to be suited by the soft conditions, but she is keen to get a prep run into him ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
"Irish Cavalier is better on good ground, but I didn't want to leave him from the beginning of December to Cheltenham with no run," said the Newport handler.
"He may handle it, but I don't think he'll be at his best on that ground."
Curtis thinks her other runner, Shantou Flyer, will be better suited by the ground.
He had a break after running in the Galway Plate in the summer and made a winning return at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, and was fourth to Foxtail Hill over the course and distance four weeks later.
"He seems to handle a bit softer ground and has won at Cheltenham when it was soft. He's in great form," said Curtis.
"Cue Card is the one to beat. If you look at the best of the horses, they're all not too far off each other on the ratings."
Gary Moore was disappointed with Traffic Fluide's comeback run at Newbury last weekend when he finished last of four behind Altior in the Game Spirit Chase.
However, that was his first start for 13 months and Moore is expecting a better show this time.
"I was slightly disappointed with his run the other day, but we'll ride him differently having got the fizziness out of him and see how he goes," said the West Sussex trainer.
"He's very happy with himself. I think he will benefit from the longer trip."
Jonjo O'Neill relies on Taquin Du Seuil, winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham earlier in the season.
The 11-year-old is very smart on his day and was fifth to Outlander in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in late December on his only start since then.
The Philip Hobbs-trained Royal Regatta, winner over the course and distance in the Stella Artois 1965 Chase in November, completes the six-runner field.