Forgotten star Coneygree seeks comeback at Newbury
Mark Bradstock could be forgiven for getting a little defensive when people discuss and dismiss his stable star Coneygree.
In 2015, it seemed he was destined to write his name in legend, brilliantly winning the Gold Cup, with many predicting it wouldn't be his only success.
But he's raced just four times since and pulled up behind in-form Bristol De Mai in his most recent outing at Wetherby.
He lines up in Saturday's Ladbrokes Trophy, the showpiece of Newbury's Winter Carnival, shouldering a top weight of 11st 12lb for the big race.
No wonder fans, who rejoiced when he went unbeaten through his novice chasing season, have vanished with barely a trace.
But Bradstock, who won the race with Carruthers six years ago, believes he's got good claims on a track where he has won on both his previous outings.
"We think he is in very good form but we thought that before Wetherby and it just didn't happen," he said.
"He goes at a hell of a lick but if he gets his jumping going it could be great.
"Wetherby was frustrating but worse things have happened. He's still here and it's all systems go. It is a hell of a weight to carry but where else do you go?"
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls won this race twice as a jockey and three-times as a trainer, including a double with the legendary Denman.
His best hope, Present Man, is hardly in the same league as The Tank but he could still produce an upset in a wide-open renewal of the first major chase of the jumps season.
"He's just astonished us at home if I'm honest," said Nicholls. "He's got stronger as he has got older and the improvement is incredible, every run gives him a better chance."
Willie Mullins trains favourite Total Recall as he seeks to win the race for the first time, though his charge Be My Royal won in 2002 only to be disqualified when a banned substance was discovered.
His win in the Munster National at Limerick was a handy pipe opener but Irish trainers don't have much luck in the race, a 37 year drought since their last winner.
"You need a lot of luck and i's very hard to win two big handicaps in a row but Total Recall has done everything right at home. I just don't know if the handicapper has caught up with him," said the Closutton handler.
Elsewhere, Whisper - a runner-up to Might Bite in a dramatic RSA Chase at Cheltenham - looks ready and primed.
Trainer Nicky Henderson has won the race three times, with Trabolgan and Bobs Worth both going on to strike at the Festival.
And Whisper did nothing wrong winning a graduation chase at Kempton on his reappearance - albeit he only had one to beat. And with savvy jockey Davy Russell on board, hopes are high.
"That extra trip at Kempton will help him and he's come on for that run," said Henderson.
"Whisper was great last year and had he not bumped into Might Bite twice, he would have won two Grade Ones.
"He deserves to win a really good race and hopefully this is it. Davy knows him well and the pair have one of those great relationships.
"He is a great jockey and is pretty cunning and he will have a plan for sure."
And - completing the strongest claims in the 21-strong field - there is American, looking to strike for trainer Harry Fry after his disappointment with Uknowhatimeanharry in Friday's Long Distance Hurdle. And the well-backed Singlefarmpayment, whose trainer Tom George expects him to improve for his solid last run at Cheltenham, when he was beaten by Cogry, who also lines up for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.