Henderson holds Champion aces

A total of 29 horses stand their ground at the latest forfeit stage for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle, the feature race of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

A total of 29 horses stand their ground at the latest forfeit stage for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle, the feature race of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Binocular, Punjabi and Sentry Duty give Nicky Henderson a very strong hand, while there are four former winners still engaged in the shape of Hardy Eustace (2004 and 2005), Brave Inca (2006), Sublimity (2007) and Katchit (2008).

Paul Nicholls has yearned for a genuine contender for top honours over hurdles and in Celestial Halo he appears to have found it after he beat Osana at Sandown recently.

However David Pipe’s Osana, runner-up in this last year, will get a chance to turn the tables. Pipe also has Ashkazar engaged.

Harchibald, runner-up to Hardy Eustace in 2005, forms part of a Noel Meade team that also includes Muirhead, Jered and Jazz Messenger.

Willie Mullins has intriguingly left in his high-class novice Hurricane Fly along with Ebaziyan. Henry De Bromhead may run Sizing Europe and Won In The Dark is another Irish possible.

Blue Bajan, Crack Away jack, Snap Tie and Whiteoak are others with the option.

Five horses were taken out – Afsoun, Aigle d’Or, Aitmatov, Rippling Ring and Silent Oscar.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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