Barry Geraghty believes the state of the going on Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup day will have a big bearing on whether Bobs Worth can retain his crown on March 14.
Last year's winner got his season back on track when he showed a devastating turn of foot to win the Lexus at Leopardstown over Christmas after a lifeless reappearance in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Despite winning last March, Geraghty felt that ground was as soft as Nicky Henderson's charge would have liked and is hoping for slightly quicker conditions this time around.
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"The Lexus was a top-class race with all the form horses there, so it was a really good race," Geraghty said. "It was a good performance. He picked up well going to the last and quickened really well off the back of it. I think the ground in the Gold Cup was on the softer side for him. He was very much workmanlike in the Gold Cup, whereas at Leopardstown he showed his pace.
"I'd imagine it's straight to the Gold Cup. He's better with space between his races as he does take a while to recover. I'd be very hopeful [he can win again]. The ground will be a big factor on the day. The better the ground, the better for him."
Bobs Worth is one of 36 entries for the Gold Cup along with stablemates Long Run, the 2011 winner, and Hennessy hero Triolo D'Alene.
Henderson claimed the trainers' championship last year from Paul Nicholls, and his great rival looks set to pose the biggest threat to Bobs Worth with the King George winner Silviniaco Conti, who was travelling well last year before falling three out.
Having finished third in the Betfair Chase at Haydock behind Cue Card, he then outstayed Colin Tizzard's stable star at Kempton on Boxing Day. The two could meet again, although Cue Card is also likely to have other options at the Festival.Nicholls could also run Al Ferof, third in the King George, Unioniste, Rocky Creek and Tidal Bay.
First Lieutenant is a horse who comes to life in the spring and he has run well at the last three Festivals, including when behind Cue Card in the Ryanair last year. Having returned to his best in the Lexus, when second to Bobs Worth, he may step up in trip for the Gold Cup this year for trainer Mouse Morris.
Owners Gigginstown House Stud have also entered Bog Warrior, Last Instalment, Dedigout and Roi Du Mee. Last Instalment was one of the leading lights in the staying novice chase ranks around two years ago before being sidelined by injury.
Trainer Philip Fenton said: "He will have his first run back in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles (January 16). Everything has gone very satisfactorily with him, but I'm sure he will improve for his first run as we haven't pushed him at home. He seems versatile in regards to trip and ground, so we will get his first couple of runs out of the way and see how he progresses."
Other Irish entries include last year's RSA winner Lord Windermere, Dessie Hughes' Lyreen Legend and Mount Benbulben. The Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins has also given Arvika Ligeonniere, Rubi Ball and Boston Bob the option, although the latter is more likely to line up in the World Hurdle.
Venetia Williams has entered Katenko and Houblon Des Obeaux, while David Pipe has put in Dynaste.
Cloudy Too could run for Sue Smith, with The Giant Bolster, second and fourth in recent years, in contention for David Bridgwater.