Appreciate It will face just seven rivals in his bid to get favourite-backers off to the perfect start at this year’s Cheltenham Festival with victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Runner-up to his stablemate Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, the seven-year-old is all the rage to go one better on his return to the Cotswolds and provide trainer Willie Mullins with a seventh success in the traditional curtain-raiser.
Appreciate It is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this season, including back-to-back Grade One wins at Leopardstown.
Mullins also saddles Blue Lord, who finished six lengths behind his stablemate when third at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival, while the runner-up Ballyadam is also in opposition again, having moved from Gordon Elliott’s yard to Henry de Bromhead.
The chief hope for the home team is Harry’s Fry’s unbeaten Tolworth Hurdle winner Metier, closely followed by Jonjo O’Neill’s Betfair Hurdle victor Soaring Glory.
De Bromhead’s second-string Irascible, the Alex Hales-trained For Pleasure and Grumpy Charley from Chris Honour’s yard complete the octet.
Shishkin is the undoubted star attraction in a six-strong line-up for the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy.
Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has not put a foot wrong over fences thus far and will be long odds-on to claim a second Festival win for Nicky Henderson.
Dan Skelton’s Allmankind can be expected to set a strong gallop, while Mullins will rely on Franco De Port following the enforced withdrawal of Energumene earlier this week due to injury.
Captain Guinness (De Bromhead), Eldorado Allen (Colin Tizzard) and Numitor (Heather Main) also feature.
Cepage heads a field of 16 declared for the Ultima Handicap Chase, with leading fancies Happygolucky and the ultra-consistent Aye Right both in the mix.
Mullins has dominated the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle over the years and once again houses the hot favourite in Concertista, with the Skelton-trained Roksana seemingly the biggest threat among her 10 opponents.
A maximum field of 22 will go to post for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, including the Mullins-trained Saint Sam, Joseph O’Brien’s Busselton and Paul Nicholls’ Houx Gris.
The concluding Sam Vestey National Hunt Chase has been rendered far more competitive following news likely favourite Royal Pagaille is instead set to bid for glory in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
In his absence, Galvin will head the market ahead of the likes of Escaria Ten (Denise Foster), Next Destination (Nicholls) and Remastered (David Pipe).
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