The clash between star mares Honeysuckle and Epatante is on in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Ten runners have been declared for the first championship race of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday (3.05).
Third in the betting is Goshen, who held a clear lead when unseating his rider in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the meeting 12 months ago.
Silver Streak, taking in his third renewal of the two-mile contest and 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Abacadabras add further spice.
Epatante's trainer Nicky Henderson and owner JP McManus hold the record for the most wins in the race, with eight and nine respectively.
McManus has taken the last four renewals – and his colours were carried to victory by Buveur D'Air, one of ten horses to have won it twice (2017, 2018).
Here is Mirror Racing's horse-by-horse guide:
Has ten lengths to make up on Honeysuckle from Leopardstown, where the top mare was in a different league.
But this is Cheltenham – and the Irish raider has finished fourth and second here.
Both were excellent runs, with his 2020 effort just a head short of conquering Shishkin.
He scoped dirty after coming home 23¾ lengths behind Sharjah earlier this season.
But better is expected this time and faster ground brings him right into it.
2. Aspire Tower
Second in the Triumph Hurdle last year, promoted a place from Goshen's freak unseat of Jamie Moore.
Has defeated Abacadabras with a 6lb age allowance in the WKD Hurdle and second to Sharjah since.
Very capable, however may face a battle for the lead with Silver Streak and they are likely to set it up for a horse that likes to challenge late.
One of the shocking moments at Cheltenham in recent years when Gary Moore's runner stumbled with his race won.
Has endured a stop-start season since, missing certain races and coming last at the track in December, when a fibrillating heart was diagnosed.
On song, he's very good, as his 22 length demolition of Song For Someone showed last time at Wincanton.
On that form he should win this, but it's not certain the same Goshen turns up here.
4. James Du Berlais
UK debut for the Willie Mullins-trained runner.
Boasts three successes at Listed/Graded level from the first half of the season, before finishing a close second in an Auteuil Grade 1.
The course, ground and the strength of the opposition are question marks.
5. Not So Sleepy
Pulled up in this in 2020, he's expected to lead the field with Aspire Tower.
A quirky individual, he caused chaos in the Fighting Fifth at the first hurdle last November.
On his day he is good, with won back-to-back Betfair Exchange Trophy triumphs.
Yet he is likely to be outclassed once again in this company.
Well behind in two runs this term and on a retrieval mission here.
Had some useful form before spending a year on the sidelines and his spark is yet to return for the Mullins yard.
Wears first-time cheekpieces with plenty to prove.
The four-time Grade 1 winner has given connections plenty of excellent days on the racecourse.
Finished 11 lengths behind Honeysuckle in the 2020 Irish Champion Hurdle and tried again this year – and that distance grew to 19 lengths.
Last year he was a three-length second in this. No obvious reason why he should turn the form around with Epatante.
8. Silver Streak
Admirable sort and defeated Epatante over Christmas with some smart front-running tactics.
Placed in this in 2019, he was well behind that rival last year.
Has his chance to make the frame again on drying ground which is ideal.
Turned over at odds of 1-5 favourite at Kempton, when a back issue was discovered.
Won this with something in hand 12 months ago, without a blemish on her record coming into it.
Prior to the shock defeat, she looked on excellent terms with herself in the Fighting Fifth.
Honeysuckle may just have the class edge on her though.
Bids to become the fifth mare to take this in partnership with Rachael Blackmore.
Six of the last ten favourites have won – and she overtook Epatante at the head of the market after routing the field in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Also looked exceptional when seeing off Benie des Dieux at 2020 Festival, one of a sequence of ten unbeaten races.
Has won on all types of ground and it's difficult to find a flaw in her.
VERDICT : In what can be a repeat of the Irish Champion Hurdle result, HONEYSUCKLE is tipped to see off Abacadabras. The runner-up is expected to get a lot closer this time, but the favourite is a mighty opponent and has the edge on her rivals.
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