With 64 days to go, the countdown to the Gold Cup can officially start. The entries were made yesterday, 34 of them, and all the names that should be there are there, with no ghastly errors of omission. Kauto Star, already the first horse to regain the Cheltenham crown, can go for a unique three in five years; his great rival Long Run can try to redeem his reputation as the future of this particular branch of the sport.
And away from the pair who top the market – last year's winner Long Run is 11-4 with race sponsors Betfred, Kauto Star 4-1 – are developing several other vignettes. Fans of the novice Grands Crus, who won the Feltham Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day in a faster time than did Kauto Star the King George VI Chase over the same three miles, can rest easy that he is in the field, and even easier to know that they could get their ante-post money back if he does not run. Should the David Pipe-trained grey stick to the company of his peers in the RSA Chase, the Betfred operation, which make him 8-1 third favourite, will refund Gold Cup bets.
As back-up to Kauto Star, Paul Nicholls' bench comprises a cluster of outsiders in Poquelin, The Minack, Tidal Bay and last year's fourth, What A Friend. Nicky Henderson, trainer of Long Run, has two in reserve in Burton Port and yesterday's one rather surprising nomination, Finian's Rainbow. Though the nine-year-old was in command when falling at the last in a three-mile point-to-point earlier in his career, all his eight victories have come at around two miles and, indeed, he is third favourite for the Champion Chase.
The Irish, who have not had a horse placed in a Gold Cup since War Of Attrition won it six years ago, have eight possibilities to end the drought. One of the most intriguing is Quel Esprit, always highly regarded by Willie Mullins but who failed to complete any of his three top-level runs last term. The nine-year-old, who has had two successful confidence-builders this season, can be backed at 40-1. An even longer shot, China Rock at 100-1, is set to run at Punchestown on Saturday, his first start since stem-cell treatment for a leg injury sustained when going well for War Of Attrition's trainer, Mouse Morris, in last year's Cheltenham showpiece.
Those whom top-class chasers leave cold at any time, let alone during a chilly January, can bask this afternoon in Flat warmth at Meydan, as only the most parochial will ignore the Dubai international carnival that culminates in the planet's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, at the end of March.
One of today's contests, the UAE Guineas Trial, features a few names on the fringe of elite class, colts whose performances last year can be linked to the very best. Kinglet, for instance, one of 300 horses under the care this year of Godolphin's No 1 trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni, beat the subsequent close Dewhurst Stakes third Most Improved on his debut and holds a Derby entry.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Dashing Eddie (2.25 Southwell) After an unlucky run on his debut at today's track last month, made no mistake last week and still looks ahead of his mark.
Star In Flight (1.45 Catterick) Off the mark very easily over course and distance two weeks ago, jumping fluently in front, and should be able to continue his progress.
One to watch
Barenger (Nicky Henderson), a beaten warm favourite at Doncaster yesterday, is surely better. The hurdling debutant lost ground as he ballooned several obstacles and a slicker technique will show him in a better light.
Where the money's going
Zarkandar has been made favourite, at 8-1, for his seasonal comeback in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury next month.