Ante-post favourite Riders Onthe Storm is one of 16 runners declared for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Formerly trained in Ireland by Gold Cup-winning trainer Tom Taaffe, the six-year-old made a successful debut for Nigel Twiston-Davies in a valuable event at Aintree last month.
Despite a 13lb hike in the weights, the Scorpion gelding is the clear market leader to follow up at Prestbury Park on Saturday.
The weights are headed by the Venetia Williams-trained Cepage, who was just under two lengths behind Riders Onthe Storm when runner-up at Aintree on his seasonal reappearance.
Champion trainer Paul Nichollss saddles Secret Investor and BetVictor Gold Cup runner-up Brelan d’As, while Keeper Hill is a major contender for Warren Greatrex following a comeback success at Haydock three weeks ago.
Other hopefuls include Tom George’s Clondaw Castle, Dan Skelton’s Not That Fuisse, Warthog from David Pipe’s yard and Henry Oliver’s Generous Day.
Fourth in last season’s Arkle Trophy, Clondaw Castle made an encouraging start to the new campaign when narrowly beaten by Diego Du Charmil at Ascot in early November.
George said: “He’s in good form and I think he’s ready to step up in trip this stage.
“This race has been the plan for a while and I thought he ran very well on his first run back at Ascot.
“Hopefully he’ll improve for that and as long as the ground isn’t bottomless, which I don’t think it will be, he should run well.”
Generous Day was last seen causing a 33-1 upset at Kempton in late November.
Oliver said: “He’s in good form and we’re hoping for a nice run.
“He’s still unexposed over fences and we were delighted with him at Kempton. He surprised us how well he handled the soft ground that day, but he is a stronger stamp of a horse this season.
“It’s a big step up in grade, but the owner is keen to run him in some big handicaps off a light weight and he deserves to take his chance.
“I think a sharp, turning track like Cheltenham will suit him.”
Irish hopes are carried by the Willie Mullins-trained Robin Des Foret.