The entries are revealed today for the four Grade One championship novice hurdles staged at The Festival, which runs from Tuesday, March 11, to Friday, March 14.
A total of 102 entries have been received for The Festival curtain raiser, the £120,000 Grade One Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle over an extended two miles on Champion Day, March 11.
Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins, successful last year with Champagne Fever, has an amazing 22 contenders engaged including 8/1 favourite Vautour, who is unbeaten in two starts in Ireland, Moyle Park (20/1) and Valseur Lido(16/1).
The 44 Irish entries also feature dual Grade One winner The Tullow Tank (10/1, Philip Fenton), eye-catching Fairyhouse scorer Lieutenant Colonel (20/1, Dessie Hughes) and the progressive Western Boy (16/1, Pat Fahy).
Paul Nicholls’ trio are headed by German import Irving (10/1), who extended his unbeaten record to three in a Grade Two contest at Ascot in December, while Nicky Henderson’s nine entries include Royal Boy (20/1) and Josses Hill (14/1), first and second in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on January 11.
Other notables include StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle winner Dell’ Arca (33/1, David Pipe), Ladbroke Hurdle victor Willow’s Saviour (20/1, Dan Skelton) and Zamdy Man(25/1, Venetia Williams), who triumphed in the Grade Two Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock Park on January 18.
Willie Mullins also dominates the entries for the £120,000 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle over two and five furlongs, accounting for 19 of the 104 entries. Among his powerful contingent is the unbeaten Faugheen, last year’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper hero Briar Hill and Rathvinden.
Also starring among the 38 Irish entries is The Tullow Tank and the Noel Meade-trainedApache Stronghold. The latter six-year-old marked himself out as a horse to follow after staying-on to take third in the Grade One Champion Bumper at the Punchestown Festival won by The Liquidator (David Pipe).
Apache Stronghold has made a promising start to his hurdling career, beating a competitive field on his debut at Punchestown in October prior to a facile three-length success over Azorian (Eoin Griffin) in the two and a half mile Grade Two Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan on November 24.
Meade, who sent out Nicanor to beat Denman in the 2006 renewal, reported: “All going well, Apache Stronghold will go for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
“He had a setback after Christmas and it has taken a while to get him back, so won’t be able to get another run into him. We don’t want to rush him and it’s just a case of seeing if we can get him back up to that level.
“I won’t run him unless I’m 100 per cent happy because there is always Aintree, Fairyhouse or Punchestown, but the plan is to run at Cheltenham if he’s right.
“He’s a gorgeous a horse and we think he’s right up there with the best around, so hopefully we can get him there.”
The British-trained entries include the undefeated Red Sherlock (David Pipe), a winner at the course on Festival Trials Day, and Grade One-winning pair Captain Cutter andRoyal Boy, both trained by Nicky Henderson.
David Pipe’s Kings Palace headlines 81 entries for the £120,000 Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over three miles following two relentless front-running performances at Cheltenham this season.
Malcolm Jefferson has entered the highly-regarded pair of Oscar Rock and Urban Hymn, while Warwick Grade Two victor Deputy Dan (Oliver Sherwood) andChampagne West (Philip Hobbs) are also engaged.
Willie Mullins’ 16 entries include Briar Hill, Faugheen and dual hurdle winner Clondaw Court. The Co Carlow handler has also entered Sure Reef, who got the better ofMoonshine Lad (Gordon Elliott), Gilt Shadow (Stuart Crawford) and Wounded Warrior (Noel Meade) in a close finish to a Grade Two novice hurdle at Leopardstown on January 26.
Of Wounded Warrior, Meade commented: “Wounded Warrior is likely to go for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He ran a nice race at Leopardstown at the weekend, but it was a very stop, start race and that didn’t suit him at all.
“He will definitely be better over further and three miles won’t be a problem.”
The £120,000 JCB Triumph Hurdle over two miles and a furlong is the highlight of the season for four-year-old hurdlers and was won in devastating fashion last year by Our Conor.
Among the 65 entries is Grade One winner Le Rocher (Nick Williams), Ivan Grozny(Willie Mullins), one of 24 Irish-trained entries, impressive Newbury winner Calipto (Paul Nicholls).
Ireland’s champion Flat trainer Aidan O’Brien, who sent out the mighty Istabraq to win three Stan James Champion Hurdles, could be represented by Leopardstown scorerPlinth.