Minella Indo and A Plus Tard, the first and second last year, the first 30 entrants to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the highlight of the Festival meeting in March.
Coached by Henry de Bromhead, the duo were separated by only one length and a quarter in 2021, but are A Plus Tard the antepost favorite at this stage after winning Betfair Chase before being narrowly denied at Savills Chase in Leopardstown. last week, while Minella Indo disappointed the King George in Kempton.
Willie Mullins double winner Al Boum Photo had to settle for third place in his hat-trick run last season, but is in the mix to try to regain his crown after a triumphant seasonal debut at Tramore on New Year’s Day.
He is part of a seven-member group of Irish handler champion who also named King George’s hero Tornado Flyer plus John Durkan Allaho winner, Asterion Forlonge, Carefully Selected, Franco De Port and Melon.
Savills winner Chase Galvin is Gordon Elliott’s main hope at this stage, with the trainer making five initial entries including mare Mount Ida, who was a Grade Three winner in Punchestown on New Year’s Day.
Protektorat by Dan Skelton is the home trainer contender with the lowest price at this point, with Nicky Henderson’s Long Walk Hurdle winner and another King George flop, Chantry House, also among the possible.
Leading rookie Ahoy Senor is a captivating voice for Lucinda Russell who won at Newbury and only found Bravemansgame too good at Kempton at Christmas.
Also on the list are Fiddlerontheroof, Lostintranslation, Royale Pagaille and Aye Right.
Shishkin and Energumene are the 22 contenders for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the feature film contest on the second day of the Festival, March 16.
The Shishkin, coached by Nicky Henderson, secured the Arkle at last year’s bout before continuing to grade one glory at Aintree, while keeping his record for unbeaten fences intact when he made an impressive comeback in the Desert Orchid Chase at Christmas time.
A belated setback saw Energumene miss his Arkle date, but he got paid at the Punchestown Festival and has yet to be overcome in five pursuit starts, the last time landing on Hilly Way in Cork last month. .
He is one of three potential challengers for Mullins, alongside Allaho and Chacun Pour Soi, who was only third in this race last year.
Defending champion De Bromhead, Put The Kettle On, has entered again, but has been below her best so far this period as runner-up Nube Negra could renew the rivalries for team Skelton.
Envoi Allen is another of De Bromhead’s four voices, alongside Notebook and Captain Guinness, with Paul Nicholls’ Tingle Creek hero Greaneteen one of four voices for the champion’s coach.
A number of contenders for the Gold Cup and Champion Chase are also featured in the Ryanair Chase contenders, with the 36 including Allaho, A Plus Tard, Energumene, Tornado Flyer and Put The Kettle On among others.
Allaho won the race last year and is the ante-post favorite, with last year’s second Fakir D’Oudairies being placed by Joseph O’Brien and also prominent in betting.
The Skelton-trained Shan Blue is in the mix while Midnight Shadow, Defi Du Seuil, Dashel Drasher, and Janidil are other familiar names.