Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo will face a maximum of 10 rivals when he bids to follow up at Punchestown on Wednesday.
Henry de Bromhead’s charge led home stablemate A Plus Tard to win the blue riband at Prestbury Park last month under Jack Kennedy, who will once again be on board in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup next week.
The eight-year-old is set to renew rivalry with the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Al Boum Photo and Kemboy.
Al Boum Photo finished an honourable third when bidding for a Gold Cup hat-trick in the Cotswolds, while Kemboy – who had previously beaten Minella Indo when landing the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown – was only ninth.
Kemboy famously sent Ruby Walsh into retirement when beating Al Boum Photo in the last running of the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2019.
Mullins has also left in Ryanair Chase winner Allaho, Easy Game and Melon, while British hopes will be carried by Clan Des Obeaux, who was supplemented on Thursday morning at a cost of 25,000 euro.
The dual King George winner got back on the winning trail in the Betway Bowl at Aintree earlier in the month – and trainer Paul Nicholls is looking forward to seeing him take on the Irish in a race he won with Neptune Collonges in both 2007 and 2008.
“This is weather is ideal for him, this time of year suits him and the track should suit,” said Nicholls.
“He’s in good shape and looks fantastic, so we’re really looking forward to it.
“We’ve been very successful at Punchestown in the past, with Neptune Collonges and Master Minded and others.
“It’s all about having the horses that are good enough to be competitive in those races.”
Denise Foster’s pair of Tiger Roll and The Storyteller, Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir d’Oudairies and the Tom Mullins-trained Court Maid are the other hopefuls.
The feature event on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival on Tuesday is the William Hill Champion Chase.
Willie Mullis has already stated his intention to run both the aforementioned Allaho and Chacun Pour Soi in this Grade One contest, along with Cilaos Emery.
Fakir d’Oudairies also has this option, while Kim Bailey and Dan Skelton hope to send First Flow and Nube Negra across the Irish Sea.
Castlegrace Paddy (Pat Fahy), Daly Tiger (Noel Meade) and De Bromhead’s Queen Mother Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On complete the nine confirmations, although the latter is set to contest Saturday’s Celebration Chase at Sandown.
The Mullins-trained Appreciate It is the star attraction among 13 still in the mix for the first Grade One of the week – the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle.
A runaway winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, the seven-year-old will be a warm order to follow up back on home soil.
Echoes In Rain and Blue Lord are also part of a strong Mullins team in the same race, while De Bromhead has confirmed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner Bob Olinger, although he appears more likely to run later in the week.
The third and arguably most exciting of the three Grade One races on day one is the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase, which is set to stage a mouthwatering clash between the Mullins-trained Monkfish and De Bromhead’s Envoi Allen.
The champion trainer also has Cheltenham Festival heroine Colreevy and Franco De Port in a field of eight.
The main supporting races to the Gold Cup on Wednesday are the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle over three miles and the ITM – Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion I.N.H. Flat Race.
Gavin Cromwell’s Vanillier will bid to supplement his win in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in the former, while Mullins is ready to let Champion Bumper one-two Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard lock horns again in the latter.
Cromwell also trains the likely favourite for the big race on Thursday – the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.
Flooring Porter made every yard of the running to win the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and will be well fancied to follow up.
A 19-strong entry also includes Paul Nolan’s Pertemps Final winner Mrs Milner, Denise Foster’s Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Sire Du Berlais and Noel Meade’s fourth Beacon Edge.
Energumene, who disappointingly missed the Arkle Cheltenham after suffering a setback, is one of eight remaining contenders for the Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase.
Envoi Allen also has the option of running in this two-mile contest.