Connections of Beef Or Salmon are on tenterhooks as the pride of Ireland prepares to silence his doubters once and for all by winning the totesport Gold Cup today.
The Michael Hourigantrained nine-year-old - a multiple big-race winner but still to convince in some quarters - is favourite for chasing's blue riband following the defections of Best Mate and Kingscliff.
"Sure there is no Best Mate and some of the other stars are missing but, at the same time, there is plenty to fear in a big field," Hourigan said.
"In many ways it's going to be more difficult because we are now likely to start favourite, although the horse doesn't know that. I don't feel under any great pressure.
"People talk about it being third time lucky for us, but I brought Dorans Pride here four times and he didn't win the Gold Cup.
"You have to be very lucky and everything has to go for you."
Jockey Paul Carberry will renew his partnership with Beef Or Salmon, having lost his 100 per cent record on Hourigan's charge at Leopardstown last month.
"Paul hasn't sat on the horse since the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February. Beef Or Salmon scoped badly after that and we realised that something was wrong," Hourigan said.
"Fortunately he has recovered in time, but it was still a major sweat on my part when the vet examined him recently to see if all was clear. It was the longest minute of my life."
Carberry will not see Beef Or Salmon until he arrives in the parade ring.
"I have no particular plan of action," Hourigan added. "Paul knows what he has to do, he has ridden the horse before and the rest is up to him.
"It will be a true test, three and a quarter miles and a lot of fences. You just need an awful lot of luck.
"It will be my seventh tilt at the Gold Cup and if he won it would be a great achievement. Strong Flow and Celestial Gold look the main dangers, but like I said you have to be very lucky - everything has to go right."
Clear skies and drying conditions have prompted officials to water the track ahead of the race.
Connections of leading fancies Grey Abbey and Strong Flow have both voiced their concerns over the likelihood of fast ground for the blue riband event.
The going at the track was changed from 'good, good to soft in places', yesterday morning to an official 'good' during the afternoon.
Howard Johnson, who is enjoying a vintage Festival in company with jockey Graham Lee, has yet to make a decision regarding the participation of Grey Abbey.
The County Durham handler has been concerned about the drying ground in the Cotswolds for his 11-yearold, whose authoritative performances this season have seen him move into the ranks of the finest staying chasers.
Grey Abbey was last seen winning at the course in January when taking the Pillar Property Chase, but he has been suffering from a swollen joint, although he has made a full recovery.
"If I am not happy with him, then I won't run him," said Johnson. "The key to it is the ground, and if it is good, he will run, but it must be safe."
Paul Nicholls was also harbouring serious ground concerns about his big hope Strong Flow, and indicated that he may not take his chance in the Festival showpiece if conditions are too quick.
The 2003 Hennessy Gold Cup winner has had only two races since returning from a year off through injury after hurting his knee in Kempton's Feltham Chase later that season.
He has run with promise on both occasions, most recently when finishing second to Farmer Jack in the Aon Chase at Newbury, but connections have indicated before that he needs some cut in the ground to be at is best.
"I would not risk him if the ground gets faster, and that goes for my other runners like Cerium (Triumph Hurdle) and L'Ange Au Ciel (Grand Annual) too," said the Somerset handler.
Strong Flow's jockey Ruby Walsh said: "People have made a lot of the fact that Strong Flow has no experience of the Cheltenham fences, but his jumping is his strength and I have no worries on that score.
"If he improves again from his Aon run - and I am sure he will - he must have a terrific chance."
Robert Alner is not too concerned about conditions for Sir Rembrandt. Last year's runner-up to Best Mate is better known as a mudlark, producing one of his best performances when second in the 2003 Welsh National in a quagmire at Chepstow, but his Dorset handler believes that he will have " no excuses".
"It doesn't matter if he doesn't have the rain, but it would help," said Alner.
The nine-year-old gave triple Gold Cup winner Best Mate a real scare 12 months ago, and has become Alner's only runner in the race after former favourite Kingscliff was ruled out earlier in the week.
"He seems to come right in the spring, and he is in great form - I couldn't be happier with him," added Alner.
Sir Rembrandt has yet to taste victory this term, but produced a fine second to Grey Abbey on his seasonal reappearance, and was most recently fourth in the Aon Chase.
Kicking King, one of two runners for Ireland, was reported to be in tip-top shape by his trainer Tom Taaffe, son of Pat, rider of the legendary Arkle.
The seven-year-old had been considered an unlikely runner less than three weeks ago after he scoped dirty. However, the King George VI Chase winner put himself back in contention last week when showing that he had made a quick recovery.
"I couldn't be happier with him, he's terribly well," Taaffe said.
"I wouldn't call it a virus. In human terms it was probably the end of a common cold. That's what I believe."
Jockey Barry Geraghty believes Kicking King is in with a "big shout" if he is back to the form he showed at Kempton.
He said: "Tom is very happy with him and if he's 100 per cent over whatever he scoped dirty with, and he's back to the form he was in Kempton, he'll run a big race.
"We'll just have to wait and see, but I'm definitely glad he's running because if he is right he's got a big shout. I wouldn't have any concerns about the trip."
Timmy Murphy believes his ride Celestial Gold has a " really good each- way chance", but is worried about his old friend Beef Or Salmon.
The Irishman used to be the regular pilot of Michael Hourigan's favourite before he signed a contract to ride for Celestial Gold's owner David Johnson. "Beef Or Salmon has not done much wrong this year and he has to have a real chance," Murphy said.
However, he has enjoyed great success with Celestial Gold this term, and his mount was the early season star, winning both the Paddy Power and Hennessy Gold Cups. After a break, the gelding ran a promising third behind Farmer Jack and Strong Flow.
"I was happy with him after his last run, where he was a little bit keen and got a bit tired," added Murphy. "I said then that he would beat the other two at Cheltenham, and of course he only has one of them to worry about now.
"He has to improve again, but I sat on him two weeks ago and he was in really good form. He must have a really good each-way chance."