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Last year’s winner Church Island is in a field of 25 left in the Gold Cup Chase at Sandown on Saturday.

Irish trainer Michael Hourigan’s veteran could bid to become only the third horse to win the prestigious end-of-season handicap in successive years after Larbawn (1968-69) and Topsham Bay (1992-93).

There will be a big rise in the weights after Paul Nicholls scratched Kauto Star and What A Friend, as expected.

The list is now headed by another Irish challenger, the Dessie-Hughes-trained Siegemaster who fell in the Topham Chase at Aintree at his latest start.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Baby Run, winner of the Fox Hunters’ Chase over the Grand National fences, is among the fancied horses standing his ground.

Philip Hobbs has left in Balthazar King and Triggerman but has taken out Wishfull Thinking and Quinz.

Among the other possibles are Suzy Smith’s Aimigayle, the Pat Murphy-trained Maktu, Alex Hales’ Iconoclast and David Pipe’s pair of Faasel and Gentle Ranger.

PA mfl/gm

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