Hot favourite Constitution Hill will take on six rivals in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday.
The Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old has been sensational since making his debut at Sandown in December 2021, winning all five of his starts under rules, including the last four at the top level.
He has not raced since sauntering to a 17-length defeat of stablemate Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, but is long odds-on to give Henderson a ninth victory in the extended two-mile showpiece.
Willie Mullins saddles State Man, who has a little more experience and is unbeaten in six completed outings for his Closutton trainer after falling on his Irish debut. State Man has similarly won his last four Grade One contests and heads to Prestbury Park as the Irish Champion Hurdle winner.
Mullins is double-handed with last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Vauban lining up, while Gordon Elliott is responsible for Zanahiyr, who finished third in the race last year but has subsequently been disqualified.
Phil Kirby has declared Jason The Militant, while Nigel Twiston-Davies relies on I Like To Move It, who won the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and also the Grade Two Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on his last run.
The field is completed by Not So Sleepy, who represents Hughie Morrison.
Marie’s Rock heads down Mares’ Hurdle route
Marie’s Rock will defend her crown in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle with the eight-year-old one of three to line up in the race for Henderson.
Owned by Middleham Park Racing, she got the better of Elliott’s Queens Brook to triumph 12 months ago and will arrive at Cheltenham on Tuesday unbeaten in four having followed up last year’s success at both the Punchestown Festival and on reappearance in the Relkeel on New Year’s Day.
Much of the speculation in the build-up to the Festival has centred around the possibility of Marie’s Rock stepping up to three miles for a crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle, but with conditions forecast to be on the slow side throughout the week, connections have plumped for the shorter option which could steal the show on the opening day.
She is joined in the line-up by stablemates Epatante and Theatre Glory, who were both late supplementary entries at the six-day stage, while last year’s Mares Novices’ Hurdle winner Love Envoi also takes her chance.
The race is also the place for Honeysuckle‘s farewell to the racecourse as the dual Champion Hurdle heroine looks to record her fourth straight Festival victory and recapture the prize she won in 2020.
Mullins saddles four as 14 go to post for the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Facile Vega heads the bookmakers’ lists looking to give the master of Closutton a sixth victory in the race in the past 10 years, while his Dublin Racing Festival conqueror and stablemate Il Etait Temps is also in the mix.
Royal Bond scorer Marine Nationale, Tolworth champion Tahmuras and one-time Derby favourite High Definition are all other notable entries.
Two powerhouses are set to clash in the Sporting Life Arkle with El Fabiolo and Jonbon the main players among the nine declared, while Gaillard Du Mesnil is the choice of Patrick Mullins in the concluding Wellchild National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase.
There are 23 declared for the Ultima Handicap Chase where Corach Rambler looks to defend his crown, while a full field heads to post for a typically ultra-competitive edition of the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.