Galopin Des Champs and Paul Townend© Photo Healy Racing
Galopin Des Champs is the star name among the seven runners declared for the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Saturday.
Already a hot favourite to provide trainer Willie Mullins with a third victory in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup next month, the seven-year-old is widely expected to enhance his claims by securing a first chasing win over three miles on the opening day of the Dublin Racing Festival.
The champion trainer has saddled a record 11 previous winners of the Irish Gold Cup and also sends Stattler, Kemboy and Franco De Port into battle in his bid to make it a dozen.
Last season's National Hunt Chase winner Stattler ran an excellent race on his only previous start this season when pushing former Gold Cup winner Minella Indo close at Tramore at New Year's Day, while the 11-year-old Kemboy won the Irish Gold Cup two years ago and is out to regain his crown.
Gordon Elliott has won two of the last three renewals with Delta Work in 2020 and Conflated 12 months ago and this year relies on Fury Road, who finished third behind Conflated and Kemboy in the Savills Chase over the course and distance in December, a race in which Franco De Port also finished fourth.
The Ted Walsh-trained Any Second Now and Peter Fahey's The Big Dog complete the line-up.
Nine runners are set to go to post for the first of eight Grade Ones over the two days - the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors "50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff" Novice Hurdle.
The two-mile-six-furlong contest is one of the few races for which Mullins does not train the favourite, with that honour going to Barry Connell's impressive course winner Good Land.
Mullins is represented by Grangeclare West and Quais De Paris, Paul Nolan will have high hopes for Sandor Clegane and Elliott saddles American Mike, Absolute Notions and Cool Survivor.
British hopes are carried by the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Weveallbeencaught, with Henry de Bromhead's Deep Cave the other hopeful.
Mullins holds the ace hand in the Donohue Marquees Spring Juvenile Hurdle, with his unbeaten odds-on favourite Lossiemouth joined by five stablemates in Gust Of Wind, Jourdefete, Tekao, Cinsa and Gala Marceau. De Bromhead's Ascending and Brendan Duke's hurdling debutant Darraby are the other runners.
It is a similar story in the Goffs Irish Arkle, with Appreciate It, Dysart Dynamo, El Fabiolo, Flame Bearer and Saint Roi all declared by Mullins. Joseph O’Brien's Banbridge, Peter Fahey's Visionarian and Elliott's Fil Dor complete a fascinating field.
Mullins fires a four-pronged assault at the concluding Future Stars (C & G) I.N.H. Flat Race, with Chosen Witness, Fact To File, Largy Hill and Special Cadeau all in the mix - but it is the Closutton handler's brother Tom who saddles the market leader in impressive course winner Fascile Mode.
Better Days Ahead from the Elliott yard is another worthy of consideration in a Grade 2 contest that promises to be hugely informative with the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in mind.