Sport 66-1 shot Auroras Encore, left, won the race last year

The number will have to be whittled down before the race in April

Bobbing along: Bobs Worth and Barry Geraghty take the Lexus with ease

Bobs Worth bounces back in style

Gold Cup champion trounces Irish challengers to become clear favourite to retain Festival crown

Merry King ready to revel in mud of Chepstow marathon

In keeping with everything else about Christmas, there’s almost too much for the racing fan to appreciate and digest at the moment.

Going for gold: Triolo D’Alene, left, clears the last in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury

Champion trainer Nicky Henderson strikes with big-race double

For champion trainer Nicky Henderson, the season started in earnest yesterday as the rather dull, by his standards, opening to the defence of his title came to a decisive end with a sparkling big-race double. My Tent Or Yours presented satisfactory Champion Hurdle credentials in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, and less than an hour later Triolo D'Alene took the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. And there is the Seven Barrows superstar Sprinter Sacre to look forward to at Sandown on Saturday.

Wonderful Charm (left) wins the Berkshire Novices' Chase from Up To Something at Newbury

Merry King set to bring Hennessy Gold Cup cheer

A roll call of the early winners of the Hennessy Gold Cup reads like a Who’s Who of steeplechasing legends: Mandarin, Taxidermist, Stalbridge Colonist, Mill House and, of course, Arkle, who twice made light of 12st 7lb in the mid-Sixties.

Cue Card puts in a trademark leap for Joe Tizzard in winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock

Cue Card message clear for King George

The race regarded as an autumn Gold Cup resulted in the utter rout of the past winners of the Festival blue riband at Haydock on Saturday as Cue Card set the seal on his emergence at the top of the British staying division with an emphatic display of front-running jumping to win the Grade One Betfair Chase.

Paul Nicholl's 12-year-old Tidal Bay can add the Betfair Chase to his winning tally

Veteran Tidal Bay can floor top chasers and have his day as punters’ best friend

He has won 15 races and amassed total prize-money of more than three-quarters of a million pounds.

Veteran Tidal Bay can floor top chasers and have his day as punters’ best friend

He has won 15 races and amassed total prize-money of more than three-quarters of a million pounds.

Tidal Bay won the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby earlier this month

Tidal Bay at high water in Hennessy Gold Cup weights

Over the years Tidal Bay has drawn many less than complimentary opinions concerning his level of commitment to his vocation, but in the autumn of his career, revitalised since joining Paul Nicholls, he can now demand comparison with some of the stable's best.

Equestrianism: Kauto Star trainer, Laura Collett, still sedated

Laura Collett remains under sedation in hospital after suffering a serious fall in the British Eventing Horse Trials at Tweseldown on Monday.

You Write the Caption - 15/03/13

Win a bottle of wine

First Avenue was a first winner of the season for both his trainer, Laura Mongan, and jockey, Nathan Adams

Avenue leads to relative riches

With jump racing's richest week looming and the most powerful stables in Britain and Ireland poised to do battle for more than £6 million in purses, there was a timely reminder yesterday that success is relative.

For the high jump?: Sponsors are beginning to wonder about the toxicity of the Festival and Grand National

The Last Word: Behind the Festival fun lie Cheltenham's killing fields

Amid the odds and wagers sit other numbers: 43 horses have died there in the past six years

Paul Nicholls with Kauto Star

Kauto Star 'too old' to compete at Rio Olympic in 2016

Cheltenham Gold Cup winner has taken up dressage

Jonjo O’Neill has had at least one winner at the last seven Festivals

Taquin Du Seuil takes the puzzle out of Festival for Jonjo O'Neill

The glamour of a "plot" horse has so rubbed off on the Cheltenham Festival handicaps that trainers nowadays need all the artistry of old merely to guarantee a run. Of no fewer than 195 entries for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle, for instance, even some rated within 5lb of the weights ceiling are not yet certain to make the final cut of 24 runners.

Tony McCoy sits tight as Kapga De Cerisy parts the birch at the last fence before going on to win the Kilbrittain Castle Novices’ Chase at Sandown yesterday, beating the 2-5 favourite Fago by 15 lengths

Aces can be Nicholls’ new high roller

On the face of it, with the vast majority of Cheltenham horses now keeping their powder dry, the main focus either side of the Irish Sea today is on the John Smith’s Grand National.

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