The Giant Bolster is shaping up for Cheltenham Gold Cup

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent
The Giant Bolster
The Giant Bolster was named after a legendary ogre who once caused havoc on the North Cornish coast

With his regular appearances in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and magnificent name - shared with a legendary Cornish ogre - The Giant Bolster has himself become one of jump racing's titans.

Now aged nine, the horse, star turn of trainer David Bridgwater's burgeoning 30-horse operation just 20 miles from Cheltenham at Stow-on-the-Wold, is back on the trail to his favourite track.

With jockey Jason Maguire riding for the first time, in place of Tom Scudamore who is required at Ascot, The Giant Bolster is due to face six opponents in Wetherby's bet365 Charlie Hall Chase.

It's the first time he's contested the race, the first of a series of skirmishes between top steeplechasers most of which have the Gold Cup showdown in March as their target.

For me it, along with the accompanying West Yorkshire Hurdle, marks the start of the 'core' section of the all-year-round national hunt season.

The Giant Bolster facts
Age: 9 (foaled 8 March 2005)
Sex: Bay Gelding
Breeding: Black Sam Bellamy - Divisa (Lomitas)
Trainer: David Bridgwater
Owner: Simon Hunt & Gary Lambton

Bridgwater and owners Simon Hunt and Gary Lambton are plotting a path which will take the horse to the Gold Cup in which he has finished - working backwards - 3rd, 4th and runner-up in the last three seasons.

In all, at the sport's iconic HQ, The Giant Bolster's form figures read 6th-fell-1st-unseated rider twice in a row-1st-2nd-4th-5th-1st-3rd, and he has practically never run a bad race there when getting round.

He has also propelled the colourful Bridgwater, formerly a leading jump jockey who, for a time, was number one choice for the powerful string of ex-champion trainer Martin Pipe, into the limelight.

Insisting that his pride and joy has improved for his break since his most recent Gold Cup exertions, when only narrowly beaten by Lord Windermere and On His Own, the trainer told BBC Sport: "He's really, really well, and looks great.

"I'm hoping he runs a good race at Wetherby, though 'Sammy' (nicknamed after the stallion Black Sam Bellamy, his dad) can run a stinker - everyone knows he normally comes to his best after the New Year.

"You worry about the effects of a different track and a different jockey; as we know he likes Cheltenham and he likes Tom Scu' but we hope to be nicking a bit of prize money.

"They say (King George VI Chase winner) Silviniaco Conti needs a flat track so he should be a certainty really, but everything else is fair game."

The Giant Bolster
The Giant Bolster finished third at the 2014 Cheltenham Cup

After Wetherby, the plan is for The Giant Bolster to be aimed at the Betfair Chase, Haydock followed by a prize at the valuable Cheltenham fixture in late January - on which he's been successful for three of the last four years - and then the Gold Cup.

Silviniaco Conti, definitely also a titan, and winner of the 2012 Charlie Hall Chase, is being prepared for the defence of his King George title at Kempton on Boxing Day.

After falling and finishing fourth behind The Giant Bolster on Cheltenham's unique undulations in the last two Gold Cups, it's widely believed now that the Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old is indeed best on flat tracks like Wetherby, Kempton or Aintree where he landed a prestigious prize at the Grand National meeting.

Although likely to benefit from the first run of his season, he's the obvious favourite, ahead of up-and-coming chaser Taquin Du Seuil, who disappointed last time, Menorah and The Giant Bolster.

After months of the Flat, racing is changing gear - up or down, depending on your allegiances - and this line-up looks a very decent way to mark it.