First Lieutenant will make his seasonal reappearance on Saturday in a mouth-watering renewal of the JNWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, but the Mouse Morris-trained raider, who has not tasted success since the 2013 Betfred Bowl, will have a plethora of proven stars to beat in what is one of the highlights of a cracking weekend's racing.
The nine-year-old was last seen finishing second to Boston Bob in the Punchestown Gold Cup and the latter will take his chance for Willie Mullins and they are both prominent figures in the latest betting for this fascinating JNWine.com Champion Chase.
A disappointing fourth in this race 12 months ago, First Lieutenant has racked up a number of placed efforts in Graded races, but has often struggled to get his head in front, so punters may not be lured in by the current 7/2 on offer about him getting his head in front and look elsewhere.
The aforementioned Boston Bob (9/2) will spearhead a two-pronged attack for Willie Mullins and if he can emulate the form he showed in the latter part of last season, where he not only won the Punchestown Gold Cup, but also the Melling Chase at Aintree, then he has to be a major player.
On His Own (10/1) produced a career best when finishing a gallant second to Lord Windermere in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but he was subsequently blown away in the Punchestown Gold Cup and he can be hit-and-miss and stable jockey Ruby Walsh has elected to ride Boston Bob in this 3m contest.
Paul Nicholls has tasted success in this race twice in the last four years with Kauto Star and Kauto Stone doing the business and the Ditcheat handler will send over Grand National fifth Rocky Creek, who showed when finishing second in the Hennessy Gold Cup on his first start last year that he runs well fresh and has to be considered at 4/1.
Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson will add more strength in depth to the UK challenge and the Seven Barrows maestro will saddle Ma Filleule (10/3), who was an ultra-progressive mare last season and could still be on the upgrade. Second in a Grade 3 race behind Cheltenham Gold Cup hopeful Holywell at the Cheltenham Festival, she then went on to storm to victory in the Topham Chase and if she has improved will have to be given the utmost respect.
Noel Meade's Galway Plate winner Road To Riches (7/1) has a lot to find if he is to land a blow at this top level, but he's entitled to his shot and wasn't disgraced when beaten by Sizing Europe in the PWC Champion Chase last time out and he will be race-fit.
Cheltenham Foxhunters' Chase winner Tammys Hill (16/1) has shown he can excel over the larger obstacles, but this is a whole new level than that Cheltenham Festival success and he could well struggle, whilst Realt Mor (33/1) will complete the octet and is another that could be out of his depth in a vintage renewal.