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Solwhit's mettle to be tested in Hurdle

Some people get annoyed referring to Cheltenham so early, but like it or not it is the be all and end all for so many.

March's renewal of the Champion Hurdle is set to be one of the most memorable and one of its biggest trials is set to take place at Leopardstown tomorrow, even though two of the races leading contenders will be warmly wrapped up in their respective boxes.

Regardless of the result tomorrow, expect a major shake-up in the market and plenty of reaction from our bookmaking friends who will be champing at the bit once they past the line in the Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle.

Solwhit is one of our leading contenders and suffered his only defeat in his last six starts when finishing third behind Go Native at Newcastle back in November.

Out of his five most recent wins, four of them have come at the top level in Grade One company and he is going to more than likely be sent off an odds-on chance for the shrewd combination of Charles Byrnes and Davy Russell.

In most years, the French-bred son of Solon would be a long favourite in the market for the most prestigious hurdle race in the calendar but such is the competitiveness of this season's hurdling recruits that Solwhit -- although the selection -- will still have his hands full even tomorrow.

Celestial Halo, a narrowly beaten second by Punjabi at Cheltenham last March, will be over to test every one of Solwhit's credentials as he bids to reroute his claims to go one better this time around after being derailed somewhat last time out when suffering defeat to Khyber Kim.

Sublimity is a former Cheltenham winner and lost nothing in defeat when second to both Go Native at Newcastle and Solwhit here at Christmas although his participation is still in doubt as the ground conditions are worse than the 10-year-old would appreciate, while it will be an interesting step up in class for Edward O'Grady's Torphichen.

The other Grade One on the card is the Irish Arkle and it was probably a shade surprising to see Ruby Walsh side with the Willie Mullins trained Sports Line here over Paul Nicholls' Take The Breeze who is a three time winner over fences across the Irish Sea.

Sports Line is less experienced but is obviously showing plenty at home for Ruby to pitch his faith in the seven-year-old son of Norwich.

However, the selection on this occasion is given to neither of the aforementioned pair and instead is that of Colm Murphy's Zaarito who was very impressive albeit at a lower grade over Christmas.

It is a step up in class for the exciting eight-year-old who despite his apparent small stature has taken well to the larger obstacles and ran Captain Cee Bee all the way at Naas before winning here days after he was about to run leading Arkle contender Sizing Europe all the way. He has all the form and may end up being very overpriced on the day.

Willie Mullins is confident the drop in trip for Quel Esprit will prove irrelevant but it may just hand Hollo Ladies the initiative to land the Grade Two novice hurdle and follow up his Christmas win here for Noel Meade and Davy Condon.


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