Buveur D’Air and Apple’s Jade head Champion Hurdle field
Henderson’s dual winner to concede 7Ib to Elliott’s superstar mare as 14 are confirmed
Apple’s Jade, pictured with Jack Kennedy up, disputes favouritism with Buveur D’Air as she bids to become the fifth mare to claim Champion Hurdle glory. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Nicky Henderson’s dual winner Buveur D’Air will bid to become the sixth horse in history to win the two-mile hurdling crown three times – and the first since fellow JP McManus-owned star Istabraq (1998, 1999 and 2000).
However, he looks set to face his toughest test to date next week as he will need to concede 7lb to superstar mare Apple’s Jade.
Gordon Elliott’s charge claimed her 10th victory at Grade One level with a scintillating display in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month and disputes favouritism with Buveur D’Air as she bids to become the fifth mare to claim Champion Hurdle glory.
The last mare to achieve the feat was Annie Power and her trainer, Willie Mullins, has another leading contender from the distaff division in Laurina.
Unbeaten in six starts
The daughter of Spanish Moon is unbeaten in six starts since joining Ireland’s perennial champion trainer and is already a Festival winner having landed the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle last March by a jaw-dropping 18 lengths.
Mullins could also call upon last year’s runner-up Melon and the improving Sharjah.
Apple’s Jade could be joined by stablemate Farclas, while the potential Irish challenge is completed by Gavin Cromwell’s Espoir D’Allen, the Henry de Bromhead-trained Petit Mouchoir, and Supasundae from Jessica Harrington’s yard.
Henderson also has International Hurdle winner Brain Power and smart mare Verdana Blue – who beat Buveur D’Air in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton – in the mix.
Ben Pauling’s Global Citizen, Colin Tizzard’s Vision Des Flos, and the Evan Williams-trained Silver Streak complete the acceptors.
Having sent out Footpad to claim the race last year, Willie Mullins is responsible for five of the 12 Irish entries which remain in the Racing Post Arkle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.
The Closutton trainer has left in Duc Des Genievres, Real Steel, Voix Du Reve, Camelia de Cotte and Pravalaguna.
After being forced to rule Le Richebourg out of the race, Joseph O’Brien may still be represented by Us And Them, while Gordon Elliott’s chances of a first win in the race rest with Hardline and Mengli Khan.
Completing the potential Irish contingent is the Henry de Bromhead-trained trio of Mind’s Eye, Ornua and Paloma Blue – and Articulum, from the yard of Terrance O’Brien.
Ante-post favourite Lalor features among 21 confirmations. The Kayley Woollacott-trained seven-year-old will attempt to overturn his odds-on defeat in Sandown’s Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase when returning to the top table at the scene of his impressive debut win over fences, in a Grade Two in November.
Bid to confirm his superiority
Glen Forsa, from Mick Channon’s yard, could bid to confirm his superiority over last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle runner-up Kalashnikov – having defeated the Amy Murphy-trained six-year-old in the re-routed Grade Two Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time out.
Philip Hobbs, seeking his first win in the race since Captain Chris in 2011, has left in recent Grade One scorer Defi Du Seuil – who also holds an entry in the JLT Novices’ Chase later in the Festival.
Gary Moore has long believed Knocknanuss to be a top-level performer, and he hopes he can atone for his early fall in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown last month by gaining a third win over fences and a first at Grade One level.
Moore said: “It all went wrong in Ireland, and he took a heavy fall which took him about a couple of weeks to get over.
“Since then, he has been very good and he remains on course for the Arkle. It was always the plan to go for the Arkle, because my thoughts are that it is an open race.
Exuberant as ever
“He is still as exuberant as ever, and ideally you would like him a little bit more settled. If he was too settled I would be worried more, given the sort of horse he is.”
Connections of the Tom George-trained Clondaw Castle have stumped up £8,500 to supplement the seven-year-old in the two-mile contest after deciding against running him in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.
George, speaking on his website, said: “Clondaw Castle has not been confirmed for the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase. Following discussions with his owners, we have decided to supplement him in what looks like a very open renewal of the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices Chase.”
The list of entries is completed by Ballywood (Alan King), Capeland (Paul Nicholls) and Slate House (Colin Tizzard).
Leading Ryanair Chase contender Fox Norton has been ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival after meeting with a setback.
The Colin Tizzard-trained gelding, who also held an entry in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, was as short as 8-1 for the Grade One prize.