Mister Whitaker is among 51 entries (up from 46 in 2017) for the prestigious BetVictor Gold Cup, the highlight of The November Meeting at Cheltenham on Saturday, November 17, BetVictor Gold Cup Day.
Run over two and a half miles, the G3 contest is one of the richest handicap chases of the season with a total prize fund of £160,000.
Mister Whitaker (Mick Channon) and Rather Be (Nicky Henderson) fought out the finish to the Listed Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase over course and distance at The Festival™ in March, with Mister Whitaker prevailing by a head under Brian Hughes. They could clash again in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Mister Whitaker is unbeaten in two starts over fences at Cheltenham, having also captured the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase on Festival Trials Day in January, and the six-year-old in line to reappear at Carlisle this weekend.
Berkshire-based trainer Mick Channon reported: "Mister Whitaker is in great order and could well run in the Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle on Sunday if the ground is suitable.
"Then he has the option of the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham or Newbury a couple of weeks after. We have entered for both and I would have thought he will run in one or the other."
Regarding his hopes for this season, Channon added: "Mister Whitaker starts this season with a handicap mark of 145. He will probably have to improve another stone to be competitive in these big handicaps.
"He is not the biggest horse, but he is very compact. He has a great cruising speed and it looks as if he stays well too, which is what everyone is looking for. He is just a very good little horse."
Mister Whitaker and Rather Be are the 10/1 co-favourites of four with BetVictor alongside Baron Alco (Gary Moore), who was second in the G3 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at The Festival™, and Aintree's G1 Manifesto Novices' Chase runner-up Rene's Girl (Dan Skelton).
Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard, 12/1 with BetVictor) is the class act among the entries. The 10-year-old made great strides over fences following his emphatic Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle triumph in 2016, headed by a memorable victory in the G1 King George VI Chase later that year, but has had an interrupted career subsequently due to injury.
Paul Nicholls, who has won the BetVictor Gold Cup twice in recent years with Al Ferof (2012) and Caid Du Berlais (2014), has nine entries, the most of any trainer.
They include 2016 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner and recent Aintree victor Frodon (14/1), experienced six-year-old chaser Romain De Senam (12/1)and the J P McManus-owned trio of Le Prezien (16/1), Modus (20/1), successful at The Showcase earlier this month, and Movewiththetimes (20/1).
The Pipe family is synonymous with the BetVictor Gold Cup. Martin Pipe sent out a record eight winners of the race between 1987 and 2005, while his son David was responsible for the 2011 victor Great Endeavour. David's three entries are led highly-regarded French import King's Socks (16/1), who finished fifth in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, and also include Ramses De Teillee (14/1) and Eamon An Cnoic (33/1).
Splash Of Ginge (20/1) has the chance to become the sixth dual victor of the BetVictor Gold Cup and the first since Cyfor Malta (1998 & 2002) after his shock 25/1 success in 2017. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has sent out four winners of this race, more than any other current handler, and has also entered Ballyandy (16/1), Ballybolley (25/1) and Crievehill (33/1).
Benatar (Gary Moore, 16/1) took high rank among the novice chasers last season and is another interesting contender, as are the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede-owned pair of Full Glass (Alan King, 16/1) and Janika (Nicky Henderson, 20/1).
Full Glass caught the eye on his UK debut when third in a Listed handicap at Ayr in April, while Janika has joined Nicky Henderson from Guy Cherel after winning both of his chase starts at Auteuil, France, in the spring. Both are five-year-olds with plenty of promise.
Seven-year-old mare Happy Diva (Kerry Lee, 14/1), never out of the first three in a novice chase campaign last season which delivered three wins, and Aso (Venetia Williams, 14/1), third in the 2017 G1 Ryanair Chase at The Festival™ but not see out since October of that year, are both prominent in the betting.
There could be Irish representation courtesy of Black Scorpion (Eric McNamara, 33/1). The seven-year-old enjoyed a four-length success in handicap company over this distance at the Listowel Harvest Festival in September before being worn down late on when third in the three-mile Munster National at Limerick on October 14. Tranquil Sea (2009) is the latest Irish-trained winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Charlie McCann, Head of PR & Communications at BetVictor, commented: "We are delighted with the quality and quantity of the entries for the 2018 BetVictor Gold Cup.
"The 2016 Stayers' Hurdle and King George VI Chase winner Thistlecrack is a fascinating entry from the yard of Colin Tizzard, and we have a terrific mix of seasoned performers and exciting second season chasers."
Weights for the BetVictor Gold Cup, which has a maximum field of 20, are unveiled on Wednesday, November 7.
Entries for the other highlight of The November Meeting, the £100,000 G3 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (Sunday, November 18) will be revealed tomorrow, Thursday, November 1.
BetVictor Gold Cup - BetVictor prices:
10/1 Baron Alco, Mister Whitaker, Rather Be, Rene's Girl; 12/1 Romain De Senam, Thistlecrack; 14/1 Happy Diva, Ramses De Teillee, Aso, Frodon; 16/1 Ballyandy, Benatar, Full Glass, Kalondra, Kings Socks, Le Prezien, Sizing Granite, West Approach; 20/1 Adrien Du Pont, Copain De Classe, Janika, Javert, Magic Saint, Modus, Movewiththetimes, Shantou Village, Splash Of Ginge, Top Gamble; 25/1 Activial, Ballybolley, Beggars Wishes, Born Survivor, Casablanca Mix, Cloudy Dream, Dolos, Garde La Victoire, Guitar Pete, Shanahans Turn, Theinval, Zamdy Man; 33/1 Black Scorpion, Bouvreuil, Cepage, Cobra De Mai, Crievehill, Eamon An Cnoic, Geordie Des Champs, Willie Boy; 50/1 Henryville, Sister Sybil, Whoshotwho
Each-way ¼ odds, 1-2-3-4
The November Meeting at Cheltenham takes place over three days - Countryside Day, Friday, November 16; BetVictor Gold Cup Day, November 17 and The November Meeting Sunday, November 18 and marks the start of the main part of the Jump season.