A field of 15, the highest number since 2011, is set to go to post for the £130,000 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, the big race of the weekend at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Scheduled for 1.55 pm, the 2m4f Grade Three handicap chase is one of the highlights of the two-day International Meeting at Prestbury Park, which begins tomorrow (Friday).
BARON ALCO (Gary Moore/Jamie Moore, 11st) made all to beat Frodon (Paul Nicholls/Bryony Frost, 11st 12lb) by two lengths in the feature Grade Three BetVictor Gold Cup over the same trip on the Old Course at Cheltenham last month.
If successful on the New Course on Saturday, the gelding would become the ninth horse to win both of the prestigious Cheltenham handicap chases, but only the fourth to do so in the same season after Pegwell Bay (1988), Senor El Betrutti (1997) and Exotic Dancer (2006).
Trainer Moore, who is based in West Sussex, said: “Baron Alco has been in good form at home since the BetVictor Gold Cup.
“That race had a lot of fallers and it was beneficial to be up front, but he still won well.
“He came out of the race very well and he is a horse who has a great mind. He has been raised 6lb but we’re looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”
Moore also runs three-time chase winner CASSE TETE (Joshua Moore, 10st).
Nicholls is the most successful trainer in the history of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with four victories.
FRODON provided the ten-times champion Jumps trainer with his most recent win in the contest when successful as a four-year-old two years ago. The chaser is 3lb better off at the weights with Baron Alco, and Frost, riding him for the seventh time, has yet to finish out of the first three.
Somerset handler Nicholls said: “Frodon came out of the BetVictor Gold Cup in good form.
“It was a fantastic run and he likes the ground and the New Course at Cheltenham.
“He has to carry top weight again and is up another 3lb. He has it all to do, but we are happy with him.”
Nicholls is also set to saddle ROMAIN DE SENAM (Sean Bowen, 10st), who unseated his rider at the first fence in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Dorset-based trainer Robert Walford is seeking another big handicap success in December, having taken the Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree last weekend with Walk In The Mill.
This time, Walford relies on seven-year-old MR MEDIC (James Best, 10st 5lb), who made an impressive winning reappearance in a handicap chase at Ascot on November 23.
Walford said: “Mr Medic is in great form and we are looking forward to running him in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
“It will be his biggest test so far, but we are hoping for a good performance. He jumps and travels so well. Hopefully, the track will suit him.
“We will see if Mr Medic is good enough to win a race like this. He has been raised 9lb, but he won easily at Ascot so it was to be expected.”
The ante-post favourite for Saturday’s contest is RATHER BE Rather Be (Nicky Henderson/Jeremiah McGrath, 10st 11lb), who was travelling well when brought down four fences from home in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Henderson, the reigning champion Jumps trainer, is seeking a fourth Caspian Caviar Gold Cup success. He is also represented by consistent six-year-old mare CASABLANCA MIX (Nico de Boinville, 10st 5lb), runner-up in a Listed mares’ contest at Market Rasen last time out.
There has only been one dual winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in Poquelin, who took the honours in 2009 and 2010.
But in addition to 2016 hero Frodon, another horse chasing a second triumph in the race is last year’s winner GUITAR PETE (Nicky Richards/Ryan Day, 10st), who ran well when third in the BetVictor Gold Cup on his most recent start.
Other leading contenders include WAR SOUND (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson, 10st 8lb), who caught the eye with an impressive win in a 2m4f handicap chase at Aintree last month. Trainer Philip Hobbs has twice landed the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, courtesy of Monkerhostin (2004) and Village Vic (2015).
Venetia Williams is one of four female trainers to have saddled the winner of the race and has an intriguing contender this year in CEPAGE (Charlie Deutsch, 10st 5lb).
The six-year-old is making his seasonal reappearance and landed the Silver Bowl Handicap Chase (the consolation contest for horses unable to secure a run at the Cheltenham Festival, at Kempton Park last season when he defeated the re-opposing COBRA DE MAI (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton, 10st 5lb) by a length and a half.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, successful with Double Ross in 2013, saddles two runners -- 2017 BetVictor Gold Cup scorer SPLASH OF GINGE (Jamie Bargary, 10st 1lb) and FOXTAIL HILL (Sam Twiston-Davies, 10st), successful over the course and distance in a handicap chase on Festival Trials Day in 2017.
Completing the field are FULL GLASS (Alan King/Daryl Jacob, 10st 4lb), who is lightly-raced in Britain but a Pattern-placed performer in France, and CATAMARAN DU SEUIL (Dr Richard Newland/Charlie Hammond (5), 10st 4lb), who fell in last Saturday’s Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree, having won his two outings prior to that at Wetherby.
LATEST BETTING -- Rather Be 10/3, Baron Alco 6/1, Frodon 9/1, War Sound 10/1, Guitar Pete 10/1, Mr Medic 11/1, Cepage 12/1, Casablanca Mix 14/1, Full Glass 16/1, Foxtail Hill 16/1, Catamaran Du Seuil 18/1, Romain De Senam 25/1, Splash Of Ginge 25/1, Cobra De Mai 33/1, Casse Tete 33/1.