Bobs sets sights on Gold Cup
Nicky Henderson is banking on Bobs Worth winning the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup to help fill the void left by his absent stablemates.
The Seven Barrows team could not have envisaged a season where Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig, both winners at the meeting last year, would only run once between them.
But the latter has not even seen a racecourse this term, while Sprinter Sacre was pulled up on his sole start at Kempton over Christmas after his heart problems first surfaced.
While Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig are flash and exuberant in how they go about their work, Bobs Worth is nothing of the sort - but Henderson would not have it any other way.
After a rare blip at Haydock on his comeback, Bobs Worth travelled to Ireland and powered home to win the Lexus Chase, leaving several of his Gold Cup rivals toiling.
"You always forget that Bob is there because he's such a reliable, lovely person and I've always said that," said Henderson.
"I bemoan that I haven't got Sprinter Sacre or Simonsig this year but the actual star of the show, there he is, doing his own thing.
"Sprinter is all flash and as good a looking horse as you'll ever see. Bob hasn't got his natural talent but I bet Bob has a bigger heart. He does not know when to give up."
Barry Geraghty also has a soft spot for Bobs Worth. Not only has he provided the jockey with wins at three successive Festivals, Geraghty sold him to Henderson as a young horse.
The one new rival for Bobs Worth, however, is Philip Fenton's Last Instalment, and Geraghty has huge respect for the Irish Hennessy winner.
"I was fairly confident we'd see more of Bobs Worth's old self at Leopardstown and he was good," said Geraghty. "He seems well at home, he's worked great and I'd be fairly hopeful.
"He (Last Instalment) has obviously been held up with injury, but I love the horse and I'd be very fearful of him. He jumps, he travels, and he's a big, strong horse. He's a Denman/Kicking King-type model - he's a big beast."
Noel Fehily rides the Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti, a faller late on 12 months ago when still in contention.
He was a good winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton where he outstayed Cue Card.
"The King George was a great race with no hiding place," Fehily told Betfred TV. "I wouldn't have a problem about the hill. He's very balanced, he's not over big so going up and down hills shouldn't be a problem.
"Last year he just got a little bit keen and for whatever reason just ran into the bottom of the fence and it just caught him out. He's a sound jumper and hasn't made a mistake in two runs this year, so I wouldn't worry about his jumping.
"I rode him in a gallop with Big Buck's at Exeter and he felt great, Paul Nicholls is brilliant at preparing horses for the Gold Cup.
"Bobs Worth is a worthy favourite, his form at Cheltenham is very good. Last Instalment just jumped a fraction to his right the last day I thought and all his form is on flat tracks.
"To win a Gold Cup is a dream, you grown up watching racing and it's the race everyone wants to win."
Lyreen Legend was just touched off by Lord Windermere in the RSA Chase 12 months ago and his trainer Dessie Hughes could do with a change of luck after the fatal fall of Our Conor in the Champion Hurdle.
Hughes said: "He's only had two runs for one reason and another. He was very near the other horses and I think he's entitled to take his chance. There's not a lot between five or six of them so hopefully we'll be in the mix."
Lord Windermere has been slightly disappointing this season but trainer Jim Culloty is hoping a return to Cheltenham sparks him back to life.
"I am happy with Lord Windermere and he likes Cheltenham," said Culloty. "I wish I was going to Cheltenham with a better run under his belt but for various reasons things have just not gone right for him this season.
"There is nothing wrong with him and he is going to Cheltenham in good old form. He likes Cheltenham and we will see how we get on. The perfect ground for him would be what he encountered last year, which is the easy side of good.
"It might be a bit faster than ideal for him but as long as it is not proper quick he will be running."
When reminded of the fact that is the 10th anniversary of Best Mate's third Gold Cup victory, Culloty said: "It feels like yesterday. Where do the years go?"
Last Instalment was a hugely impressive winner of the Irish Hennessy after returning from nearly two years off, but a late decision on his participation will be made as he must have some give in the ground.
"They watered on Wednesday night and the fog on Thursday morning will all help keep the moisture in," said trainer Philip Fenton.
"We are keen to run, we want to run, but we'll do what is best for the horse. I imagine we'll make a decision around 11.30am on Friday. Thankfully his form picked up from where he left off two years ago and he's as good as ever."
Brian O'Connell, who did the steering in the Hennessy, again gets the leg-up after intended rider Bryan Cooper suffered a broken leg on Wednesday.
"It's unfortunate for Bryan Cooper that he can't ride him, but the other Brian knows him even better, he's had a long association with him."
The Giant Bolster bounced back to his best wearing a hood and a visor in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham.
Having finished second and fourth in the last two renewals, trainer David Bridgwater has every reason to fell bullish about his claims.
"I think the last time he got his ground was in his novice chase at Worcester, however many years ago, but he'll get it again at last," said Bridgwater.
"If he jumps, and they all need to jump, and if he has luck in running, and they all need luck in running, then on pure ability along he has to be in the first three.
"Nobody else has course form this season under their belt like he has and if he has lucky in running I seriously can not see him finishing out of the frame. Tom Scudamore knows him so well , he just runs so much better for him, and he's absolutely bouncing."
First Lieutenant chased home Bobs Worth in the Lexus, beaten just a length and a half.
Mouse Morris believes that run gives his charge solid place claims as he tackles the Gold Cup trip for the first time having finished second in the Ryanair at the 2013 Festival.
Connections opted to sidestep that two-mile-five-furlong heat this term, with Morris eager to test his runner in the main event.
He said: "He has some good form in the book on his day and if Bobs Worth has a chance, we have an each-way chance. He's well, he's travelled over and all is A1 with him. It will be nice to see some good ground there.
"The trip won't be a problem - that's not a question mark in my mind. It might be he's not quite good enough, but he deserves to have a crack at the race."