Ruby Walsh reports Hurricane Fly in fine shape after giving the dual Champion Hurdle winner a spin on the track ahead of Tuesday’s showpiece at Cheltenham.
With a world-record 19 Grade One victories to his credit, the Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old now bids to become only the sixth horse to land this sought-after prize three times.
“I rode Hurricane Fly and he seems to be in good form,” said Walsh.
“He has obviously travelled over a good few times, so he knows what it is and you would be more worried about one of the younger horses that hasn’t travelled before.
“We are happy with him and have got him this far, so fingers crossed we can get him the rest of the way.
“The Champion Hurdle line-up is what it is — it was never going to be any different.
“He has been here and done it twice before and if we are being clinical about it, the others have got something to prove in a Champion Hurdle, whereas he hasn’t.
“It looks as if Captain Cee Bee will make the running, but there could be a curve-ball or two.”
Mullins could not be happier with his pride and joy after assessing his well-being at the track on Monday.
“His preparation has gone well and he has travelled over well,” said the Co Carlow handler.
“He looks very good and appears in good form.
“It is a very hot race, as a Champion Hurdle should be, but we are just focusing on our own horse and we are very happy with where we are with him.”
The horse rated by bookmakers as the biggest threat to Hurricane Fly is local hope The New One, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and ridden by his son, Sam.
The six-year-old has saved his very best efforts for Cheltenham, winning four of his six course starts, including when successful in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago.
He has won twice from three starts this season and was last seen running fellow Champion Hurdle candidate My Tent Or Yours close in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, despite a mistake at the last.
Twiston-Davies snr said: “Preparations have gone smoothly and it must be a plus that he has done so well at the course.
“I think it’s the hottest (Champion Hurdle) there has been for a very long time.
“I don’t think his jumping’s a problem, it was just such a shame he met that one hurdle wrong (at Kempton).
“I’m not worried about the pace, a slow pace will hurt the others as much as him.”
Dessie Hughes saddled Hardy Eustace to win successive Champion Hurdles in 2004-05 and this year relies upon last season's Triumph Hurdle hero Our Conor.
The five-year-old has run creditably in defeat behind Hurricane Fly on his last two starts, most recently pushing him all the way in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
“I couldn’t be happier with him, everything has gone well,” said Hughes.
“He was never in a battle last year. The first day he ran he needed it and the second day he showed he had guts but probably showed he needed another run.”
My Tent Or Yours, runner-up behind the Mullins-trained Champagne Fever in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, has won the Fighting Fifth, the Christmas Hurdle and a jumpers’ bumper so far this term.
Nicky Henderson, who has saddled five previous winners of the Champion Hurdle, said: "He had a good start to the year winning his two Grade Ones and a rather innocuous Flat race at Kempton, where I was more chuffed with him in that than the Christmas Hurdle, and so was AP (McCoy).
“The Christmas Hurdle was good, it showed there’s not very much between him and The New One and they are the best of the Brits.
“Hurricane Fly is still the one to beat. Each year we come in here and everyone is trying to find reasons to beat him.”
My Tent Or Yours and Jezki carry the colours of JP McManus, who also has a third representative in rank outsider Captain Cee Bee.
Like Our Conor, Jezki has finished behind Hurricane Fly on his last couple of outings, but trainer Jessica Harrington remains in bullish mood.
She said: “It does look a very, very good race with the reigning champion and a lot of young pretenders.
“I’ve been very pleased with his preparation since his last run.
“All year we’ve only been aiming at one date in March.
“I think I probably did leave a bit to work on, and Barry (Geraghty) is four out of four on him.”
With Tony McCoy, retained jockey for McManus, siding with My Tent Or Yours, Geraghty gets on Jezki for the first time since an emphatic victory at last year's Punchestown Festival.
Melodic Rendezvous is an intriguing outsider for trainer Jeremy Scott and jockey Nick Scholfield, having secured his sixth win from eight starts over jumps in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last month.
Scholfield said: “We’re very happy with our horse. He schooled well the other day and definitely has an outside chance.”
Ptit Zig was last seen finishing second behind Melodic Rendezvous in Haydock's Champion Hurdle trial, but multiple champion trainer Paul Nicholls believes his charge is better than he showed on Merseyside.
He said: “He’s had a great season and didn’t run too bad the last day, giving 4lb to Melodic Rendezvous. I didn’t think he was quite at his best.”