Dual winner Buveur D’Air is the star name among 27 entries for the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Nicky Henderson’s has claimed the two-mile hurdling crown in each of the last two seasons and he is a hot favourite to become the sixth three-time winner, despite suffering a shock defeat at the hands of stablemate Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on his latest outing.
The eight-year-old will be bidding to emulate Hatton’s Grace (1949, 1950, 1951), Sir Ken (1952, 1953, 1954), Persian War (1968, 1969, 1970), See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987) and Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000).
Buveur D’Air and Verdana Blue are among six entries for Henderson, with Brain Power, Call Me Lord, Charli Parcs and We Have A Dream also in the mix.
Willie Mullins is responsible for five of the 12 Irish-trained contenders. The Irish champion trainer could saddle last year’s runner-up Melon, the unbeaten mare Laurina, Sharjah, Cilaos Emery and Saldier.
Samcro and Apple’s Jade are two of four entries for Gordon Elliott, while Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae and Gavin Cromwell’s Espoir D’Allen are other potential Irish raiders.
Cromwell said: “Espoir D’Allen is in good form and we are happy with him.
“He will run next week in the Grade Three Limestone Lad Hurdle (Naas, January 27), and has been given an entry in the Champion Hurdle.
“We will have to see whether he runs in that race at Cheltenham or elsewhere.
“Five-year-olds don’t have a great record in the Champion Hurdle, but he is showing the right signs.
“We will see how he gets on at Naas first.”
Other contenders include Dan Skelton’s Mohaayed and the Evan Williams-trained grey Silver Streak. Four greys have won the Champion Hurdle, the most recent being Rooster Booster in 2003.
Williams said: “Silver Streak is in good form and came out of his second in the International Hurdle well.
“He has enjoyed a great season, with some excellent performances, and has run to a good level.
“I think we will probably run in the Champion Hurdle. You never know what will happen in these races.
“He will have a run before Cheltenham in one of the Champion Hurdle trials.”