Rocky fighting fit for Argento
Hennessy runner-up Rocky Creek looks set to go off a short-priced favourite for Saturday's Argento Chase.
The hero at Newbury, Triolo D'Alene, was in the initial line-up after beating Rocky Creek nearly three lengths in receipt of 9lb, but his defection leaves Paul Nicholls' gelding left with Houblon Des Obeaux and Harry Topper among his six remaining rivals.
Rocky Creek, a second-season chaser, has not made another appearance this winter but has been given an entry in the Gold Cup, even if there has not been a winner of both events in the same season since Looks Like Trouble in 2000.
"He's an enormous horse and did well last year," said Nicholls. "He had a little bit of colic a week after the Hennessy so we've given him lots of time to get over that.
"It was only a minor setback so the most obvious race to aim for was the Argento."
Looking further ahead, the trainer told Betfair: "If we're going to run in the Gold Cup it gives him valuable experience on the course. Saturday's race will tell us whether we aim him for the Gold Cup or the Grand National.
"He could conceivably do both, but I want to get a run into him at Cheltenham - that will tell us a lot."
Trainer Kim Bailey won both events in 1995 with Master Oats and has compared Harry Topper favourably with his previous best chaser.
Protected from too much serious competition as a novice, Harry Topper picked up the Charlie Hall on his comeback but flopped on better ground in the three-runner Future Stars Chase at Sandown.
Jockey Jason Maguire dropped off at Bailey's stable after the meeting at Warwick on Thursday in order to try Harry Topper out in cheekpieces, which he will wear in the Argento.
"Jason was down in the south riding at Warwick and was able to find enough time after racing before the light faded to jump HT (Harry Topper) over 15 fences," the trainer told www.kimbaileyracing.com.
"Jason, in the gloom of the setting sun, jumped HT with and without a set of sheepskin cheekpieces to see if they would help. We have decided to run HT in sheepskin cheep pieces for no other reason that it just might help Jason.
"There is no more genuine racehorse than HT but theses pieces just could help and make him concentrate over his fences. Tomorrow is HT's Gold Cup."
Triolo D'Alene was pulled out of a Listed event at Ascot before Christmas, which was narrowly won by Houblon Des Obeaux who represents the in-form Venetia Williams.
Locally-trained Champion Court is back at an old haunt for Cotswolds-based trainer Martin Keighley.
The nine-year-old, three times a winner at Prestbury Park, had an entry in the handicap chase on the same card but instead takes his chance in the feature over an extended three miles and a furlong, a trip which his trainer is keen to prove he stays.
Keighley said: "It was always the plan to come to Cheltenham with Champion Court and he will run in the Argento as we want to try him over the trip again.
"He didn't seem to stay in the King George the year before last but he was ridden prominently that day. We want to be more patient with him now and make fewer decisions early on.
"The Argento is still a tough race but it could be stronger and it's definitely better than running off top weight in the handicap."
Robin Dickin's Restless Harry seeks to build on his belated victory at Newbury while The Giant Bolster, who has twice run well in the Gold Cup, needs to show some more sparkle, with the field completed by Pigeon Island who is set to be the rank outsider.