Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson will lead an imposing battalion of horses to Cheltenham in under three weeks time, with the likes of Altior, Buveur D'Air, Might Bite, Champ, Santini and Ok Corral all holding Graded chances in the races to come.
Henderson - speaking at his media conference at his base in Lambourn on Monday, alerted members of the press of where his leading stable stars are heading at the upcoming Festival, confirming their entries for their respective races.
Buveur D'Air will go for a third straight Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the Festival, and his trainer reports him to be in good form.
He said: “Buveur is in good form and I am happy with him. I don’t think he was at his best in last year’s Champion Hurdle. He won it last year with a certain amount of ability and quite a lot of guts.”
“But he wasn’t impressive and the race took him apart – races don’t usually affect him – but on that occasion after Cheltenham, he hadn’t even recovered four weeks afterwards to go anywhere near Aintree."
Victorious in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and his usual prep - the Listed Contenders Hurdle at Sandown Park this season, Buveur D’Air suffered a shock defeat in the Christmas Hurdle, beaten a short-head by stable companion Verdana Blue, who also looks sets for the first Championship race at Prestbury Park.
Henderson said: “This season, I think with two miles on fast ground at Kempton we got caught out a little bit, and Verdana Blue had a lovely run round in his slipstream and she has a serious turn of foot.
“She will run at Cheltenham, but decent ground is essential for her. We know Simon [Claisse, Clerk of the Course] would like to get the ground to be good to soft on the first day of The Festival. If it was any softer, then she would be a doubtful runner.
“Brain Power will also run in the Champion Hurdle. He was very good at Cheltenham, that is the way to ride him and he likes good ground. He is in great form and I would like to go for a racecourse gallop with him," he said.
Elsewhere, Altior is bidding for a fourth successive victory at The Festival, along with the target of emulating the great Big Buck’s’ record of 18 straight victories over obstacles, should he lands back-to-back Queen Mother Champion Chases.
Henderson has been delighted with his star's preparation this season.
He said: “Everything has gone very good so far with Altior. He hasn’t put a foot wrong, well you might tell me he jumped to the left at Ascot, but we’ve been delighted with him.
“We came up with a different strategy for him this year, he has had a nice break since Ascot and he is coming into Cheltenham nice and fresh which will hopefully mean we can go on again with him after Cheltenham.
“Altior looks super, he will work tomorrow and then have a couple of schools because he enjoys it – he is in good shape. He is a very good horse and I know he hasn’t always met a great deal of opposition, but he has to do what he’s got to do.
Meanwhile, everyone's forgotten horse Might Bite - who finished second to Native River in a thrilling renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup last term, could be set for a return date.
Sadly the 10yo son of Scorpion has struggled to replicate the heights of last season, tailing off behind the other four in the Betfair Chase field at Haydock Park in November, before crossing the line last of the finishers in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Henderson revealed he is back in top shape.
He said: “We have done lots of things with Might Bite. We have recauterised his palate.
"A lot of horses have had the surgery done a few times – it can last about three runs and then you have to do it again.
“We have freshened him up and Nico [De Boinville, jockey] rode him on Saturday and thought he was in terrific form. If it was good ground in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, which it would need to be, then hopefully he would run well."
Henderson also boasts a strong team in the novice division, over both hurdles and fences.
Ascot scorer Angels Breath - who only jumped four hurdles, along with Grade Two Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle winner Mister Fisher spearhead a twin assault on the opening race of the meeting, the Sky Bet Supreme.
Champ, owned by JP McManus and named after twenty-time champion jump jockey Sir Anthony McCoy looks set to be the stable’s leading light in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on the Wednesday along with Champagne Platinum, with Birchdale stepping up in trip to three miles in the Albert Bartlett.
Meanwhile, Santini - who Henderson would have liked to have got another run into, will head to the RSA, with Ok Corral diverting to the four-miler, under the advice of Derek O'Connor.
The Champion Trainer also had some exciting young Mares including Epatante, hopeful of running this Saturday, one of three heading to the Dawn Run Mares’ Novice Hurdle on St Patricks Day.