By Jon Lees
Star northern mare Lady Buttons will take on Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle in Tuesday’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, with Tommy Dowson taking the ride.
Dowson, who rode Lady Buttons when she finished fourth in the same race 12 months, is preferred to Adam Nicol who has been passed fit to return to action, but hasn’t ridden in a race since Boxing Day.
Lady Buttons, trained by Phil Kirby, had a choice of three targets at Cheltenham, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Grand Annual being the others, but she will tackle a hot-looking Grade One that also features last year’s winner Roksana.
Kirby said: “Tommy will ride Lady Buttons. It was a decision we made between us. Adam has had a long time off and I thought the right thing to do was to leave Tommy on her for this one.
“We always had the Mares’ race as our first preference. I was hoping it was going to cut up a bit more, but obviously they have all decided to run.
“It’s not a massive field. It was that or the Grand Annual in the end, and it was going to be a massive field for that. We will run in the handicap at Aintree and run in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.”
Nicol, who has ridden Lady Buttons to 12 of her 15 wins, missed last year’s Festival because of a broken femur from which he did not return until September.
He then suffered a back fracture on Boxing Day, but had been hoping to prove his fitness to ride at the Festival for the first time.
Nicol underwent an MRI scan last week and received official clearance to start returning to action from the British Horseracing Authority’s chief medical adviser Jerry Hill on Saturday.
He will have his first ride of 2020 on the Kirby-trained Suggestion at Stratford on Monday, provided he passes a medical examination by the racecourse doctor.