The possibility of a maximum field of 20 in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday remains a possibility after 25 entries stood their ground for the £160,000 feature on Monday.
Aso was among those taken out and the weights have risen by 9lb, with the Harry Whittington-trained Saint Calvados now heading those left in the mix.
Whittington gave an upbeat bulletin about his stable star at Kempton but that was without the knowledge that his six-year-old would have to shoulder 11st 12lb.
He also has him entered in the Shloer Chase on Sunday, so the door is open for him to switch. Below are five to keep in mind.
Our experts look back at the reappearance win of Saint Calvados
An exciting novice the season before last, things did not go according to plan for Saint Calvados after his reappearance win at Naas last season, when he upstaged Footpad.
Grade One defeats at Sandown, Leopardstown and Cheltenham followed when, typically, he was ridden aggressively from the front and merely helped set races up for rivals.
Saint Calvados was ridden in contrasting manner on his return at Cheltenham last month when he was produced from off the pace to defy top-weight in a 2m handicap.
A rise of 4lb looks fair enough and, unlike several in the field, we know his fitness will be guaranteed. He will have to carry top-weight but is built to carry such burdens.
The stumbling block is the longer trip, although his pedigree offers encouragement that he will stay.
SIRUH DU LAC
Trainer: Nick Williams. Odds: 7-1 with William Hill
Was among the most progressive horses in training last season.
Siruh Du Luc began his campaign running off a mark of 123 and ended it almost 2st higher in the ratings with an unblemished record.
A horse who apparently needs plenty of time between his races, he won all four of the handicap chases he contested – the foundation for his wins being superb jumping and a willing attitude.
The handicapper has clearly got weary of him staying a step ahead, pushing him up 9lb for his Cheltenham Festival success in March even though he had little to spare.
That suggests he could be vulnerable but who is to say the willing six-year-old has reached his ceiling, or that he again will not pull out something a bit extra when it is demanded?
The track clearly plays to his strengths – he also won on Trials Day – and soft ground holds no fears.
Trainer: Dan Skelton. Odds: general 7-1
Spiritofthe games would not be winning a big Cheltenham handicap out of turn if he is successful this weekend.
He has run a series of fine races at Prestbury Park without quite managing to hit the jackpot.
The sequence began when he finished fifth in the 2018 County Hurdle and continued when he finished a close third to Siruh Du Lac on Festival Trials day in January.
He filled the same position, behind the same horse, at the Festival in March when beaten a similar distance.
Spiritofthegames subsequently made little impact in Grade One company at Aintree but can be excused that effort.
The seven-year-old is 6lb better off with Siruh Du Luc and his record fresh is also a positive. It is difficult to envisage anything but another big run and his jockey, Harry Skelton, was in positive mood when he spoke to racingtv.com at Kempton on Monday.
“He’s in great form at home and goes very well fresh," Skelton said. "We’ve got plenty of work into him and are are really looking forward to running him.
"He gets a good pull wiuth Siruh Du Lac, couldn’t be happier with him and. I wouldn’t swap him for anything.”
Trainer: Colin Tizzard. Odds: 11-2 with Coral
The Verdict: Slate House was an easy winner of the Matchbook Best Value Betting Exchange Novices' Chase
Slate House has evidently had a problem or two since he ran at this meeting two years ago and beat subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Summerville Boy.
The disappointing runs have since outweighed the good ones and he signed off a winless campaign last term by trailing home well beaten in the Arkle. His Betfair SP of 160-1 that day reflected what punters made of his chances.
Since then, he has had more breathing surgery and he looked transformed when cruising home over almost 2m4f here on his return last month.
The opposition lacked depth and few seemed to cope with the heavy ground, but Slate House could not have won any easier and the time, relatively speaking, was swift.
Perhaps he will fulfil his early potential and exploit a mark of 147, or maybe his comeback success will prove a false dawn. Only Slate House knows the answer to that one.
EAMON AN CNOIC
Trainer: Colin Tizzard. Odds: general 25-1
There was a time when the BetVictor Gold Cup, in all its guises, was dominated by Martin Pipe.
Punters had no requirement to burn the midnight oil studying the form; all they had to do was latch on to Pipe’s principal player.
Time and again it worked, with Beau Ranger (1987), Challenger Du Luc (1996), Cyfor Malta (1998 and 2002), Lady Cricket (2000), Shooting Light (2001), Celestial Gold (2004) and Our Vic (2005) all doing the business.
And when David Pipe succeeded his father the formulae initially continued to work with Great Endeavour bolting up in 2011. However, since then, the Pond House winners have dried up.
Do not dismiss Eamon An Cnoic reviving the glory days.
He was well beaten at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring but, before that, had finished a fine fourth at the Festival when finishing on the heels of Siruh Du Lac and Spiritofthegames.
He’s only 1lb higher, which gives him a similar chance to his conquerors, and he has a lovely racing weight 10st 5lb.
Pipe said at Kempton on Monday: "He's in the two-miler (on Friday) and the big race on Saturday. We will see how soft it is before deciding which way to go."
BetVictor Gold Cup, sponsor bets: 5-1 Slate House; 7-1 Siruh du Lac, Spiritofthegames; 10-1 Saint Calvados, Knocknanuss, Us And Them; 12-1 Casablanca Mix, Count Meribel; 14-1 Guitar Pete; 16-1 Highway One O One 20-1 Magic Saint, Belami des Pictons, Happy Diva, Eamon An Cnoic, Brelan d'As 25-1 others.
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