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Full steam ahead for Grand Crus . . .

Grands Crus is 9-4 favourite with the sponsors after a field of 20 was declared for the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.

David Pipe's bold-jumping grey is on a retrieval mission in the first major handicap of the new National Hunt season.

He appeared to have the world at his feet when winning the Feltham Novices' Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day in a quicker time than that which Kauto Star won the King George.

Yet he was only seen once more, when finishing an 18-length fourth to Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase at the Festival in March. Grands Crus enjoyed a breeze up Pipe's gallops on Thursday morning and the trainer tweeted: "Gerry Supple worked Grands Crus this morning and he went well . . . he says only two sleepless nights left!"

With Paul Nicholls saddling Poquelin for the third consecutive year, it means Casey Top, Finger Onthe Pulse, Questions Answered and Gilbarry are running from out of the handicap. Henry Daly's Kingsmere, however, is running off his correct weight with just 10st.

The seven-year-old looked like playing a huge part in the finish of a hot novice chase at the last meeting as he was in front when he fell two out. "He hasn't surprised me at all with his progress over fences," said Daly. "The trip and ground should be fine for him and Sam Twiston-Davies rides."

Hunt Ball aims to continue his progression for his popular owner Anthony Knott and trainer Keiran Burke after rising 88lb in the ratings last season.

Nicholls also runs Grade One winner Al Ferof and Aerial, who finished fourth at a big price last year.

n Trainer Victor Dartnall has revealed that several of his horses are suffering from a neurological disease.

Dartnall, whose stables are at Higher Shutscombe near Barnstaple, is working closely with the British Horseracing Authority in an effort to keep the outbreak under control.

He said: "Initial test results support the cause to be neurological herpes virus. We are working very closely with our vets and the BHA and we are hopeful that we have the situation under control."

Professor Tim Morris, BHA's director of equine science and welfare, added: "It is in theory possible that horses may have been infectious before the signs of the disease appeared.

"We have contacted racecourses to alert them to possible exposure but stress that the actual risk of transmission of this virus in a controlled raceday environment is small."

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