Big Buck's takes top billing as 14 declared for World stage
All 14 confirmations for tomorrow's Ladbrokes World Hurdle have stood their ground at the declaration stage, including leading lights Big Buck's and Grands Crus.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Big Buck's has won the last two renewals of the stayers' hurdle crown and is unbeaten in his last 10 starts over the smaller obstacles. Nicholls also runs Celestial Halo.
David Pipe's Grands Crus is regarded as his most likely challenger, having improved over 40lb this season and run away with the Cleeve Hurdle last time.
Pipe is also represented by Ashkazar, while Willie Mullins' pair Fiveforthree and Mourad head an interesting Irish challenge that also includes Powerstation, Rigour Back Bob and Berties Dream.
Nicky Henderson's Zaynar needs to bounce back after a largely disappointing season, while Any Given Day, Cross Kennon, Restless Harry and Souffleur complete the field. The first three home in the Ryanair Chase last year -- Albertas Run, Poquelin and J'y Vole -- are set to lock horns in the race again tomorrow.
Albertas Run, trained by Jonjo O'Neill and owned by JP McManus, bids to become the first dual winner of this Grade One contest.
Poquelin has been a strong fancy for this race since his win in the Vote AP Gold Cup here in December and his trainer is also represented by Breedsbreeze, which runs in the Best Mate colours of Jim Lewis.
Nicky Henderson relies on supplementary entry Voy Por Ustedes, which was runner-up to Imperial Commander two years ago when trained by Alan King.
Ferdy Murphy saddles Kalahari King, which has been placed at the last two Festivals, in the Arkle Trophy and Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Gauvain, Hey Big Spender, Rare Bob, Roberto Goldback, Rubi Light and Tartak are also under orders.
However, Captain Cee Bee and Somersby are due to run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase today and have been left in this race as a precaution, while Rare Bob finished second behind Blazing Bailey in the Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase.
The two withdrawals were to be expected -- Golden Silver, which runs in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Tranquil Sea, which was counted out a few days ago.