The last four winners of the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle could reoppose at the Cheltenham Festival as Hardy Eustace, Brave Inca, Sublimity and Katchit are among 34 possibles for this year’s renewal.
Ante-post favourite Binocular is still one of the contenders and is part of a strong hand for Nicky Henderson, with stablemates Afsoun, Punjabi, Sentry Duty and Aigle D’Or also entered.
Willie Mullins’ smart novice Hurricane Fly is still a possible at this stage, while the likes of Jered, Harchibald and Catch Me could also make the journey across from Ireland on March 10.
Last year’s runner-up Osana has not been seen this season but could bid to go one better, while Blue Bajan, Silent Oscar, Sizing Europe and Donald McCain’s mare Whiteoak are also on the list.
The hurdling crown is one of the few races to have eluded Paul Nicholls, who this year looks set to rely on Celestial Halo and Rippling Ring.
Rippling Ring and Celestial Halo run in the colours of leading National Hunt owner Andy Stewart, who is looking forward to being doubly represented in a championship event.
“We have entered both Celestial Halo and Rippling Ring in the Champion Hurdle and the plan at the moment is for both of them to run,” said Stewart.
“We thought that Celestial Halo had to do the donkey work in the Boylesports.com International last time and set the race up for Binocular so we hope that Rippling Ring can set a strong pace at The Festival.
“Celestial Halo led from start to finish in the JCB Triumph Hurdle and he needs to go at a good gallop because he’s probably a two-and-a-half-miler around Cheltenham and a three-miler elsewhere.
“He won’t run in the Irish Champion Hurdle, but he could make an appearance in the totepool Contenders Hurdle at Sandown on January 31.
“Binocular looks the one to beat. It would be quite nice for (owner) JP McManus because when we beat Franchoek in the Triumph Hurdle, he was the first person to congratulate me.
“I thought that Rippling Ring was going to win at the top of the hill in the Supreme Novices’ last season but he was tapped for toe in the closing stages.
“He has been entered to run at Ascot on Saturday, but he will only take his chance if the ground is very fast and he might go to Newbury for the totesport Trophy on February 7.”