Racing is back at Cheltenham once more for the first day of the new year, and 2019 kicks off in style with the Ballymore Novices Hurdle - a trial for the opening race of Day 2 of the Festival in March; a Listed race over two-and-a-half miles.
There are currently 16 entrees for this valuable pot, and although many of the field have ran over the Christmas period, several are looking to take advantage of their rise in the classes to make a statement to the division here.
Coolanly will head them none-the-less, and carries top weight after his win in a similarly named Grade Two contest back in November. As mentioned, he was one of many to have run in the last fortnight, and could only manage fifth spot behind Champ in the Challow Novices Hurdle at Newbury a couple of days ago.
He could use this to bounce back, whereas Ask Ben was part of the voided field at Haydock on Saturday in a Novices Hurdle after a serious incident involving Not Normal, and will seek another crack here.
Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson has three chances - two of which sporting the colours of JP McManus - Birchdale and Champagne Platinum. Both are unbeaten, and both have been seen in the last three weeks. Birchdale won a Maiden Hurdle in tremendous style at Warwick earlier in the month, and looks almost certain to line-up here, whereas Champagne Platinum followed up his debut win at Newcastle, with another success at Newbury on Saturday.
Henderson also has the promising I Can't Explain, who caught the eye on his first race-course experience at Sandown on Tingle Creek day.
The man very much in form is Paul Nicholls - who is currently operating at a one-in-three strike rate in the past fourteen days, and has two representatives here. Getaway Trump failed to land a hat-trick of wins in the Challow Novices Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday, but was not disgraced at all behind Champ.
He has won smartly at Exeter and Plumpton, whilst stable companion Kapcorse has received a boost in form, after both the second and the seventh-placed horses from his win at Newbury have both won since.
Other horses to mention are Harry Whittington's Anemoi - who wears the same colours as stablemate Saint Calvados, is currently unbeaten over timber, Finawn Bawn for Olly Murphy holds solid claims after his comfortable success at Bangor and Mr Pumblechook, who finally made it into the winners enclosure with a dominant display at Plumpton a week before Christmas.
Sixteen go to post as it stands, in what looks a very smart renewal of the Ballymore Novice Hurdle trial.