The battle of the mares lights up the opening day of a Cheltenham Festival like no other with 2020 Champion Hurdle winner Epatante putting her title on the line against Honeysuckle.
One is the reigning champion while the other is unbeaten throughout an extraordinary career so something has to give and it is far from a two-horse race with a rejuvenated Goshen also thrown into the mix.
Day one has been synonymous with Willie Mullins and he bids to get the Festival off to a flyer with the red-hot Appreciate It in the opener while Concertista also eyes the Closutton maestro's tenth Mares' Hurdle triumph.
1.20 Grade One Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle 2m87yds
There hasn't been a winning favourite in the first since Douvan six years ago, but that looks set to change with Appreciate It (rated 5lbs clear of his nearest challenger) looking a cut above his seven rivals in an average renewal.
The seven-year-old has just one defeat in his last six starts – when second in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago – and there is no obvious danger to him with stablemate Blue Lord one of the most likely to give him a scare.
Royal Bond winner Ballyadam put his best foot forward last month when chasing home the market leader, but there are worries about his jumping with no reason to suggest why the gap should be any closer on their third duel.
Harry Fry's Metier was impressive when taking the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle while Jonjo O'Neill's Soaring Glory finished with a flourish to land the Betfair Hurdle in style, but this is a totally different prospect and both may flounder. Mullins has trained the winner four times in the last eight years and he can have the magic touch again.
Verdict: Paul Townend can score on Appreciate It (Nap).
1.55 Grade One Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase 1m7f199yds
The absence of Energumene robs us of the clash of the Festival and it makes Shishkin's job much easier.
Last year's Supreme winner overcame all types of in-running problems to prevail and Nicky Henderson's exciting seven-year-old hasn't put a foot wrong over fences with a pair of impressive Grade Two victories in his three chase wins.
Henderson has won this prize with Sprinter Sacre (2012), Simonsig (2013) and Altior (2017) and Shishkin look another exceptional talent which can go on to follow in their hooves.
Dan Skelton's Allmankind, already a Grade One winner, looks sure to go off a ferocious gallop under his brother Harry, but the five-year-old tends to clout a few and his limitations may be exposed.
Mullins' Franco De Port picked up the pieces after a scorching early pace in a Grade One over Christmas and he can be in the mix again, but Henry de Bromhead's Captain Guinness may prove second best if staying on his feet.
Verdict: Nico de Boinville can soar aboard Shishkin.
2.30 Grade Three Ultima Handicap Chase 3m1f
There has been no Irish-trained winner since Dun Doire landed the odds for Tony Martin in 2006 and only two take their chance this time around with last year's Kim Muir victor Milan Native flying the flag along with the hugely frustrating Discordantly.
The Denise Foster-trained Milan Native holds claims under Jack Kennedy having undergone a wind operation since disappointing in the Paddy Power Chase, but this will stay with the home team.
Unexposed novice Happygolucky has had just eight career starts – including when fourth at last year's Festival in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle – but Kim Bailey's seven-year-old has shown a flair for jumping in his three chasing efforts.
Happygolucky was put away for this following an impressive novice chase success over a similar trip here in December and can score for his rejuvenated trainer with Milan Native set to make the frame.
Verdict: Happygolucky to prevail under David Bass.
3.05 Grade One Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 2m87yds
Epatante puts her title on the line, but Henderson's mare has question marks hanging over her after being conquered by Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle with a back problem subsequently coming to light.
If she is back to her best, she could hand her trainer a ninth success in the two-mile showpiece (as well as a tenth overall and a fifth in succession for owner JP McManus) but preference is for another mare, the mighty Honeysuckle.
De Bromhead's seven-year-old, winner of the longer Mares' Hurdle here last year, was better than ever when landing her second Irish Champion Hurdle last month and she can maintain her unbeaten streak under Rachael Blackmore with the cut in the ground to her liking.
A scorching pace and a smaller field could see last year's runner-up Sharjah make the first three under a patient steer from Townend while last year's Supreme second Abacadabras must bounce back to his best to be in the mix for new trainer Denise Foster.
Gary Moore's Goshen had last year's Triumph Hurdle at his mercy before a fall at the last and is out for redemption, but this is a massive step up from his return to form at Wincanton and he may struggle while De Bromhead's second string Aspire Tower is another five-year-old which needs a career-best to prevail.
Verdict: The Honeysuckle fairytale can continue.
3.40 Grade One Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle 2m3f200yds
Roksana landed this prize two years ago when benefitting from Benie Des Dieux's fall at the last and she is the most likely to throw down the gauntlet to the market leader, although she may be caught for pace at a vital stage.
It’s hard to see Skelton's nine-year-old out of the places but Mullins looks to have the answer with Concertista.
The seven-year-old delivered one of the most impressive performance of last year's Festival when waltzing to victory in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle – having been a narrow second on her debut for Mullins the year before – and she has progressed again this season.
She had Minella Melody, Cheltenham lover Black Tears and stablemate My Sister Sarah well in arrears when taking a Leopardstown Grade Three last month and she can make it successive Festival wins with last year's Coral Cup winner Dame De Compagnie overlooked as she switches back from a spell over fences.
Verdict: Concertista can deliver again under Townend.
4.15 Grade Three Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 4yo 2m87yds
Favourites have an appalling record with just one obliging in the past decade and winners priced at 40/1, 33/1 (on three occasions) as well as two 25/1 shots.
Paul Nicholls has won this three times in the past 11 years with an unexposed French recruit and Houx Gris (10-11) ticks that box once again having finished third on his sole British start in the Grade One Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.
Dermot Weld's Coltor (10-10), the legendary trainer's first Festival runner in five years, is another open to huge improvement while Denis Hogan's Zoffanien complimented the former's Naas win in January when scoring in great style at the Kildare track last month.
Saint Sam (11-8) races off the same weight as the last two victors and Mullins' four-year-old has Grade One form behind Triumph Hurdle fancies Zanahiyr and Quilixios. That sets the bar and others may fail to scale those heights.
Verdict: Saint Sam to oblige for Mullins and Townend.
4.50 Grade Two Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices' Chase 3m5f201yds
Galvin was second in a 2m4f handicap chase at last year's Festival and steps up to 3m6f on this occasion having changed stables from Gordon Elliott to Ian Ferguson.
Stamina is his big doubt for a contest where no winning favourite has obliged in the last seven runnings, but the same cannot be said of former stablemate Escaria Ten, which will love this dour test.
Both may lack the class of Next Destination, though, with Nicholls' nine-year-old opting for this easier task rather than facing Monkfish in a Grade One over 3m and that smart decision can reap dividends.
Fourth in the 2017 Champion Bumper and third in the 2018 Ballymore when trained by Mullins, Harry Cobden's mount is better than ever since an injury layoff with a pair of Grade Two successes over 3m and there is more to come.
Verdict: Next Destination can take the last for Nicholls.