A guide to the 34 entries in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
By Ben Linfoot
Last Updated: 16/01/13 1:13pm
BALDER SUCCES (Alan King) - Promising juvenile last season who was twice a wide-margin winner at Ascot before he fell in the Triumph. Tailed off in the Ladbroke last time with the heavy ground not an obvious excuse and plenty to prove at this level.
GRUMETI (Alan King) - One of the top juveniles from last season who was third in the Triumph Hurdle before reversing the form with winner Countrywide Flame at Aintree. Improved on the Flat in the summer but not seen over hurdles this campaign.
RAYA STAR (Alan King) - Seconds to Oscar Whisky and Darlan in the heavy ground this winter represent career-best form but well beaten in the County Hurdle at last year's Festival and looks just short of top class.
TRIFOLIUM (Charles Byrnes) - Just a neck behind Darlan in last year's Supreme Novices' when third but disappointingly well beaten on two starts in heavy ground, that should suit, this campaign.
HISAABAAT (Dermot Weld) - Runner-up to Countrywide Flame in last year's Triumph when finishing just in front of Grumeti and followed up that performance with Grade One win a Punchestown. Well beaten by novices Jezki and Cause Of Causes this season though.
FLYING CROSS (David Pipe) - Third in the 2010 Irish St Leger when trained by Aidan O'Brien and twice ran for John Gosden with little success last summer. Intriguing recruit to hurdles but yet to jump one in public and will be interesting to see how he gets on when making his debut for David Pipe.
CINDERS AND ASHES (Donald McCain) - 2012 Supreme Novices' winner but well beaten by Countrywide Flame on reappearance in Fighting Fifth and then by Darlan who reversed Supreme form in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Something to prove now.
OVERTURN (Donald McCain) - Last year's runner-up loves whatever task you throw in front of him but that seems to be very much novice chases at the moment and he's likely to be lining up in the Arkle.
PEDDLERS CROSS (Donald McCain) - Was unbeaten in first eight starts and met with first defeat when runner-up to Hurricane Fly in 2011 Champion Hurdle. Looked good in first couple of novice chases but things went wrong when he was put in his place by Sprinter Sacre at Kempton and then ran no sort of race in the Jewson. Plenty to prove now going back over hurdles but an interesting entry with his seasonal reappearance looming large.
CLARET CLOAK (Emma Lavelle) - Won a couple of minor novice hurdles last spring and then put up good performance in Ascot handicap behind Raya Star in November, but has stones to find to be a player here.
CAUSE OF CAUSES (Gordon Elliott) - Improving hurdler for Gordon Elliott who won the Ladbroke very easily at Ascot before beating Willie Mullins' well-touted Midnight Game in three-runner contest at Navan recently. Set to run in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and more likely to go for the Supreme than this race.
ROCK ON RUBY (Harry Fry) - The reigning champion having dropped in trip last season to maximum effect in running away with Tuesday's Festival highlight by almost four lengths. No match for Oscar Whisky back up to 2m4f at Aintree but better than the bare result on his seasonal reappearance behind Zarkandar and Grandouet in the International. A player again.
COTTON MILL (John Ferguson) - Probably would've been runner-up to Simonsig had he not unseated Denis O'Regan in the Neptune and stepped up in trip to three miles when third to Lovcen at Aintree. A possible for the Betfair Hurdle which would be a good gauge for his prospects back at two miles.
COUNTRYWIDE FLAME (John Quinn) - Last year's Triumph Hurdle winner who was no match for Grumeti the following month at Aintree. Improved on the Flat and was second in the Cesarewitch, that race fitness possibly a factor when he won the Fighting Fifth from Cinders And Ashes. Well beaten by Darlan when sent off favourite for the Christmas Hurdle last time.
REBEL FITZ (Michael Winters) - Beat Cause Of Causes to the Galway Hurdle in August and won again that month in minor contest. Seen once since, when beaten by Captain Cee Bee at Tipperary in October.
STEPS TO FREEDOM (Jessica Harrington) - Well beaten in last season' Supreme Novices' when well fancied and had a busy summer on the level. Not been seen this National Hunt season.
BINOCULAR (Nicky Henderson) - 2010 champion who hasn't been straightforward to train, missing the 2011 renewal, and hasn't been seen since finishing fourth to Rock On Ruby last year. Set to make his reappearance in the Irish Champion Hurdle at the end of January.
CASH AND GO (Nicky Henderson) - Good novice in Ireland for Edward O'Grady and was well backed when runner-up to Olofi in Racing Post Hurdle at Cheltenham on his stable debut in November. Fell in the Ladbroke last time and needs to improve plenty to have a say at this level.
DARLAN (Nicky Henderson) Fell when going well in last year's Betfair Hurdle and followed that up with excellent second to Cinders And Ashes in the Supreme. Looked very good at Aintree the following month and confirmed that impression when sprinting away with the Christmas Hurdle in ground that wasn't sure to suit. Huge chance.
GENERAL MILLER (Nicky Henderson) - Last seen when second to Overturn in the 2011 Scottish Champion Hurdle and has loads to find on the ratings as well as long absence to overcome.
GRANDOUET (Nicky Henderson) - Easy winner of the 2011 International at Cheltenham from Overturn but off with injury since then until returning in same race when second to Zarkandar last month. That was a hugely encouraging effort considering his lay-off, shaping like the likely winner for much of the contest and arguably the one to take out of the race. Big player.
KHYBER KIM (Nicky Henderson) - Back with Nicky Henderson after a largely successful spell at Nigel Twiston-Davies', the highlight his 2010 Aintree Hurdle win that followed on from a fine second to Binocular in the Champion Hurdle. Not seen since heavy defeat to Big Buck's in 2011 Liverpool Hurdle.
OSCAR WHISKY (Nicky Henderson) - Extremely talented hurdler with great strike-rate of 13 wins from 17 starts. Two-and-a-half miles is his optimum trip but capable of landing a blow over a strongly-run two and was third in this race behind Hurricane Fly in 2011. The vibes, though, are that he'll be running over three miles in the World Hurdle again this year.
PUNJABI (Nicky Henderson) - 2009 winner who has been lightly-raced since. Ninth when trying to retain his title in 2010 and out just twice since then, including when well beaten in the Christmas Hurdle by stablemate Darlan on return from long absence last time.
RANSOM NOTE (Nigel Twiston-Davies) - Rated as high as 117 on the Flat but jumped poorly when seventh of nine on hurdles debut at Kempton in November.
PEARL SWAN (Paul Nicholls) - Lost the race in the stewards' room after edging a Triumph Hurdle trial with Grumeti last season and then fell in the main event at the Festival. Not seen since but the subject of good reports from trainer Paul Nicholls recently.
ZARKANDAR (Paul Nicholls) Stayed on strongly to take fifth in this race last season and then fell when close up in the Aintree Hurdle next time. Impressive weight-carrying performance at Wincanton on reappearance and followed that up with a win in the International when race fitness proved key in his success over Grandouet and Rock On Ruby.
SADLER'S RISK (Philip Hobbs) - Sixth in the Triumph and then well-beaten third behind Grumeti at Aintree last campaign. Not seen as yet this season.KING OF QUEENS (Thomas Mullins) - Won handicap hurdle off a mark of 126 at Fairyhouse in December which could be three stone off the required standard.
TANGO DE JUILLEY (Venetia Williams) - 12 lengths off Pearl Swan and Grumeti in Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham in January 2012 and that was the last time we saw him.
HURRICANE FLY (Willie Mullins) - Beat Peddlers Cross to the 2011 Champion Hurdle and met with just one defeat in six starts since then - in last year's race when third behind Rock On Ruby and Overturn. Looked as good as ever on latest start at Leopardstown and deserves to be among the favourites.
MIDNIGHT GAME (Willie Mullins) - Well beaten in 15th in last year's Supreme Novices'. Almost won his third race from three starts this season but was nailed on line by Cause Of Causes at Navan. Plenty to find.
THOUSAND STARS (Willie Mullins) - Excelled over three miles in recent times and was a well beaten third to stablemate Hurricane Fly at Leopardstown last time. Fourth in 2011 renewal.
ZAIDPOUR (Willie Mullins) - Well beaten in eighth in last year's renewal and another Mullins hope who has done most of his running over three miles recently. Surprising if he had the pace.
SUMMARY - Some fascinating entries among the 34 with eight of them from Nicky Henderson's Seven Barrows yard, including Oscar Whisky who deserves another chance at two miles. He's an unlikely runner though with Darlan and Grandouet the two to concentrate on from Henderson's yard with past champions Rock On Ruby and Hurricane Fly also bang in the mix. Zarkandar beat both Grandouet and Rock On Ruby in the International and he looks Paul Nicholls' main hope. 2011 runner-up Peddlers Cross is an intriguing entry on his return to timber while it's also of interest top-class Flat performer Ransom Note gets an entry despite a less than impressive hurdles debut. Cinders And Ashes, Countrywide Flame and Trifolium have it to prove but could be players if the ground dries up while the long-absent Grumeti and Pearl Swan are interesting outsiders to take note of.