1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle
ALAN KING appears to hold all the aces in this year's Triumph Hurdle with Grumeti and Balder Success, who are both towards the top of the market after making smooth transitions from the Flat to jumps.
Baby Mix is another that looks a top-class recruit to hurdling and his win in the Adonis at Kempton suggests he'll be a major player.
But if you look back at the tape, there are valid arguments for thinking that SADLERS RISK will reverse the form at Cheltenham.
Rated 95 on the Flat when trained by Mark Johnston, Sadler's Risk saw off Sea Moon (short-priced favourite for last year's St Leger) in a hot Leicester maiden on his third start and was competitive at Group 3 level on a couple of occasions after that.
Sent off the even-money favourite for his hurdles debut at Kempton, Sadler's Risk jumped well and quickened up impressively on the home turn to put the race to bed. He won by 17 lengths and afterwards Hobbs explained that he was expecting such an authoritative display.
They didn't go fast enough in the Adonis and Paddy Brennan was allowed to dictate a dawdle.
That won't happen this time and a more hectic early pace will play to the strengths of Sadler's Risk.
Hobbs trained Detroit City and Made In Japan to win the race in the last ten years and Sadler's Risk could provide him with a third success.
Of the Irish, Shadow Catcher has been the subject of some very favourable schooling reports and represents our best chance for Gordon Elliott and Paul Carberry.
Selection: SADLER'S RISK Danger: Shadow Catcher.
2.05 Vincent O'brien County Hurdle
RUBY WALSH put forward Ted Spread as his charity bet at a recent Cheltenham Preview Night and, after sneaking into the race with just ten stone, he has to be of huge interest following his bloodless victory at Taunton in January.
Backed into 5-4 favouritism, Ted Spread barely had to come off the bridle to sprint past a useful yardstick in Pacha Bere. He was given a 15lb penalty for that performance and that may be just enough to guarantee him a run in this race.
That Taunton triumph was his first start for Paul Nicholls and he looks sure to improve further. A classy sort on the Flat (ran in the 2010 Epsom Derby won by Workforce and finished his Flat career with a rating of 104), a fast-run 2m at Cheltenham would be right up his street.
But at an even bigger price, DARE ME could be fantastic value. A leading bumper performer a couple of years ago, Phillip Hobbs' charge made a smooth transition to hurdling, winning his first two starts in that sphere at Exeter, but he picked up an injury after the second of those and missed all of last season.
He reappeared at Cheltenham in January and ran a race full of promise behind Module. Only for a mistake at the last he would have finished among the placings.
Hobbs ensured he got more practice for Cheltenham by running him in a decent Tauton handicap won by Sire De Grugy. He encountered a troubled passage in that and was short for space passing the omitted second last. He kept on well to finish third but I think he's better than that.
He's also better than a mark of 135 and provided more prominent tactics are deployed, Dare Me represents excellent each-way value.
Selection: DARE ME Danger: Ted Spread
2.40 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
IF WILLIE Mullins decided to pitch Boston Bob into the longest novice hurdle at the festival, he could go off at a very short price. He has done everything right to date and looked a real stayer when galloping on strongly to beat Lyreen Legend on awful ground at Leopardstown.
That form has been franked since by the runner-up and both Mullins and Walsh have made no secret of the high esteem that they hold Boston Bob in. Indeed, I've never seen the champion trainer so bullish about a horse. He thinks he's the real deal.
He is the most likely winner should he turn up but there are valid grounds for thinking that MOUNT BENBULBEN could turn around the form from their meeting at Navan before Christmas.
With just four runners in the field, Paul Carberry was forced to make the running and he didn't like it. He jumped out to the right at every second hurdle and seem to hate being out on his own at the head of affairs. Expect completely different tactics to be used at Cheltenham and Carberry is a dab-hand at riding hold-up performers. This horse has always been the apple of Elliott's eye and we may see why next week.
Selection: MOUNT BENBULBEN Danger: Rocky Creek