Protektorat finished the best of the British when third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and trainer Dan Skelton feels he sets a standard that others must surpass in Thursday’s Betway Bowl at Aintree.
The rising chasing star, who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, romped home 25 lengths clear of Native River in the Many Clouds Chase when stepped up in trip on his previous visit to Liverpool this season in December.
The seven-year-old underlined his class when chasing home Henry de Bromhead’s pair of A Plus Tard and Minella Indo three weeks ago in a muddling Gold Cup, which turned into something of a sprint.
Skelton feels he is capable of taking a second Grade One of his career, following his victory under regular partner and the trainer’s brother, Harry, in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase on this day last year.
Skelton said: “It was great run in the Gold Cup. We are very proud of him. There are only four Grade Ones over three miles in the UK, so you have to to try and go if you can.
“I’m happy with him. He’s healthy, he’s fit and he’s sound. He’s come out of Cheltenham well. Cheltenham is only just behind him, but that is what it is, you can’t change the dates.
“But it is a decent race and no-one has shirked it. We will just have to go and give it our best shot.
“He is two from two at Aintree and his most recent run is a standard-setter for recent form, but it is a hot race – there is no point pretending it is not. It is a good race.”
Last year’s winner Clan Des Obeaux also counts Ferguson among his owners and will come into the race fresh, having bypassed Cheltenham.
The 10-year-old was second-best in his bid to land a hat-trick of King Georges at Kempton on Boxing Day, and Paul Nicholls equips him with blinkers for the first time following his third-placed finish in the Denman Chase at Newbury.
Nicholls told Betfair: “Clan hasn’t been at his best yet this season, but still ran well in the King George. I was then a little disappointed with him at Newbury when our horses were a bit out of form.
“He is not getting any younger, but he’s bouncing at the moment and looks great in his coat. We worked him in blinkers on Saturday to sharpen him up and he will wear them in a race for the first time on Thursday.
“I’m hopeful of another big run back at a track we know he likes.”
Clan Des Obeaux will again take on the Venetia Williams-trained Royale Pagaille, who was runner-up at Newbury in February, and Eldorado Allen, who subsequently followed up victory there with a fair third in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
Joe Tizzard, who takes over the training licence from his father, Colin, at the end of the month, feels the eight-year-old Eldorado Allen has a bit to find, but is worthy of his chance.
Tizzard said: “It was a good, strong run in the Ryanair. We knew what we were taking on in Allaho, so we were really chuffed with him.
“A flat three miles at Aintree, similar to Newbury, would suit him. Obviously Protektorat ran a blinder in the Gold Cup and he is the one to beat, but we have beaten Royale Pagaille and Clan Des Obeaux at Newbury.
“He seems to have come out of Cheltenham really well, so we are hoping he can run another big race.
“You have to take them on and have a go. He deserves to be in it and he is not a back number in it, either.”
Irish Gold Cup winner Conflated may have had no chance with Allaho in the Ryanair, but he was going well and disputing second when falling two out.
One of two Irish challengers, trainer Gordon Elliott feels he holds every chance of gaining a third win of the season.
He said: “He is in good form and was running a good race in the Ryanair when he fell at the second-last.
“He seems to have come out of the race well and we are looking forward to running him.
“It is a competitive race, but it is a Grade One and you don’t expect anything different.”
Willie Mullins, who won a phenomenal 10 of the 28 races at Cheltenham, is represented by Kemboy, who dominated Clan Des Obeaux and the rest of his rivals in this race three years ago.
He proved he is no back number when narrowly beaten by A Plus Tard and Galvin in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, but was only fifth when bidding for back-to-back Irish Gold Cup wins.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “He was a bit disappointing (in the Irish Gold Cup), but it was probably very heavily watered ground, which wouldn’t be ideal for him.
“He’s been running really well at Leopardstown when the ground was probably a bit quicker than it should have been really and his run at Christmas would look as good as anything, wouldn’t it?
“I think the ground will be better that what they were running on at the Dublin Racing Festival, which will suit, and he’s in good form and has won around Aintree before, so he has to have his chance.
“If he can come back to his Christmas form, he’d have to be bang in the mix, but it is a deep race.”