Big three do battle in a Golden era

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LAST three winners Imperial Commander, Kauto Star and Denman figure high among the entries for the 2011 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 18.

LAST three winners Imperial Commander, Kauto Star and Denman figure high among the entries for the 2011 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 18.

A new kid on the block among the 34-strong line-up is Pandorama, arguably the best horse trained on the other side of the Irish Se

Having captured the Grade One Ryanair Chase in 2009, Imperial Commander returned to The Festival last year to post a stunning seven-length verdict over Denman in chasing’s Blue Riband.

The ten-year-old, trained locally by Nigel Twiston-Davies confirmed his status as chasing’s new superstar with a ready success on his seasonal return in the Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock Park in November and is set to head straight to The Festival.

Kauto Star, who became the first horse to regain the Gold Cup in 2009 after a first success in 2007, fell when still in contention four fences out last season, and the evergreen 11-year-old returned to form with a 14th Grade One win at Down Royal in November.

His trainer Paul Nicholls is bidding to join Arkle’s Tom Dreaper in winning the Gold Cup for a record fifth tim and has also entered 2008 winner Denman, who proved that he is still one of the top chasers around when coming home third behind the Nick Williams-trained Diamond Harry, to whom he was conceding 26lb, in the Grade Three Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November.

The seven entries from the champion jump trainer also feature What A Friend, twice successful in Grade One company last term, and The Nightingale, who was the convincing winner of a Grade Two chase at Down Royal on his seasonal return in November. Noland and Neptune Collonges, who have both been victorious in Grade One company, and recent Newbury scorer Pride Of Dulcote complete a formidable challenge from the Somerset handler.

Nine Irish-trained entries include Pandorama, who posted an impressive victory in the Grade One Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28.

The Noel Meade-trained eight-year-old also recorded a pair of Grade One successes as a novice last season and suffered his only defeat over fences when pulled up behind Diamond Harry at Newbury in November.

Meade said: “Pandorama will hopefully head to Cheltenham providing he is fit and well, although we wouldn’t run him on good going. Good to soft ground would be OK and we would love to run him.

“He would obviously have to improve again to have a chance at Cheltenham but he is still a young chaser.

“In the Hennessy at Newbury, he stood back at the first ditch and landed right in front of the fence, then two horses fell in front of him two fences later. The two frights completely unnerved him and there was no point continuing.

“He has generally been a good jumper and we hoped that he would learn from that experience .”

The plan is for him to run in the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown at the start of February.”

Other notable Irish-trained contenders include Sizing Europe, who gave trainer Henry de Bromhead a first Festival success last year when taking The Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase.

Mouse Morris, who sent over the last Irish-trained winner of the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, War Of Attrition in 2006, may be represented by Grade Two scorer China Rock, while Paul Nolan has entered dual Grade One winner Joncol.