The New One could spoil the party on big day for Irish raiders
Mullins team holds strong hand but Twiston-Davies' star can atone for last year's misfortune in Champion Hurdle
Jezki returns to the scene of his finest hour as he bids to confound the doubters for a second time in this afternoon's Champion Hurdle.
Discarded by AP McCoy 12 months ago before defying him aboard the runner-up My Tent Or Yours, Jessica Harrington's seven-year-old is as big as 9/2 third favourite to retain his crown.
He is hardly a forgotten horse, but the respective exploits of Faugheen and Hurricane Fly this term have overshadowed the reigning champion's less prolific winter campaign.
This time, there was never a question that McCoy would abandon JP McManus' charge in the £400,000 Grade One. Jezki will now have his favoured decent conditions, so it will be fascinating to see if he can reproduce last year's magic for the soon-to-be retired indomitable champion jockey.
Hurricane Fly and Faugheen also have the capacity to bring the house down. In a way, at odds of up to 10/1, Hurricane Fly is another not being given due credit despite his remarkable rejuvenation.
He spearheads a cracking book of rides for Willie Mullins' second jockey Paul Townend, and any remaining demolition of the old Queen Mother Stand that is being revamped might not be necessary if Hurricane Fly does what no horse has done before by reclaiming the title for a second time at the ripe old age of 11. That would be a simply epic outcome.
Ruby Walsh has put his faith in the rising star Faugheen. Last year's runaway Neptune victor has it all to prove at this level and he needs to jump sharper, but the prospect of him doing so increases with the booking of Walsh.
The New One, which won the same novices' event in 2013, has a score to settle after his luckless third 12 months ago under Sam Twiston-Davies, who has really come of age in Walsh's old role as Paul Nicholls' number one.
It promises to be a suitably thrilling opening day, with Mullins's concerted Cotswolds assault getting under way with a three-pronged attack on the Supreme Novices' Hurdle led by Douvan, which is strongly fancied to get the rousing curtain-raiser off to a good start for the "bankers".
A dubious conception at the best of times, bankers are plentiful today, with Faugheen, Un De Sceaux and Annie Power all seemingly falling into that bracket.
The chorus in recent days has been that they cannot all win, but that is also a fallacy. Of course, they can - which isn't to say that they will.
1.30 Grade One Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle 2m 1f
Douvan is an enormous frame of a horse but is nonetheless precocious.
He thrashed a subsequent Grade One winner in the re-opposing Sizing John at Gowran Park before destroying Grade Two opposition at Punchestown. Softer ground would suit best but he clearly has an engine.
Tell Us More drops in trip after floundering off the bridle last time.
He is another that might prefer softer going but he is highly regarded, while Shaneshill is a real contender on his favoured decent surface, having been thwarted by No More Heroes in the mud at Navan in December.
A Grade One bumper winner, the King's Theatre gelding went close in the Champion Bumper here last year.
Sizing John, Bentelimar and Jollyallan will need more but are capable of finding more, while L'Ami Serge is a live player.
He might prefer more cut, but he hasn't put a foot wrong for Nicky Henderson this term. While Alviso Ville is fine prospect, this may come a year too soon for him.
Selection: If Douvan (nb) handles the ground he should win, with Shaneshill a value alternative
2.05 Grade One Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase 2m
There is nothing to suggest that any of these will live with an on-song Un De Sceaux, whose Thurles fall may have been a blessing in disguise as it might have taught him not to take too many liberties. If he exercises enough caution and enjoys average luck, he will take some stopping.
Clarcam and Smashing have place prospects, though Josses Hill spends a lot of time in the air for this trip. Vibrato Valtat is already a better chaser than he was a hurdler. If he keeps progressing he has the potential to get involved as the race unfolds, but Un De Sceaux will be hard to catch.
Selection: Un De Sceaux surely needs only to jump around
2.40 Grade Three Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase 3m 1f
Gallant Oscar would prefer softer ground and Grand Jesture isn't the most trustworthy, but they aren't without small chances.
The home challenge looks more robust, though market-leader Pendra and Monbeg Dude are others that might prefer more of a test.
The Druids Nephew, seventh in the Hennessy, switches back to chasing after a solid turn here over flights in January. He is five pounds higher now with limited scope to improve, in contrast to Gevrey Chambertin.
David Pipe's charge is up nine pounds for winning in first-time blinkers at Newbury and is having just his seventh chasing start. Ned Stark is proving a likeable sort that will enjoy this test off a mark that he is still capable of exploiting.
Selection: It is worth speculating that the blinkers will work again for Gevrey Chambertin
3.20 Grade One Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 2m 1f
Jezki has been humbled by Hurricane Fly so far this term. A mistake at the last flight exaggerated the margin of defeat in the Irish Champion Hurdle, so he remains a very real threat.
He will appreciate the likely strong pace and drier ground, as will last year's third The New One.
Plenty has been made of his laborious Haydock win, but he prevailed more snugly than it looked. Conditions were appalling and Sam Twiston-Davies never had to get too serious with him.
A year ago, his chance was ruined by Our Conor's fall. Some have noted that he was closer to Jezki at the top of the hill before flashing home again, but the damage had been done by then. The 2013 Neptune hero is unbeaten since.
Hurricane Fly cannot be written off, as he has looked better than ever this season. While softer ground would suit him more than others, he could be ridden even more patiently than usual, so he could well get into it late on.
Faugheen is an unknown quantity. His win here last year proves that he has the requisite stamina for this and he clearly has bundles of quality.
Only time will tell if he has enough to assert his authority in such a speed test, while his jumping will need to be better than it has been on his first outing for two-and-a-half months.
Arctic Fire and Kitten Rock are both progressive enough to run well without being expected to cause an upset.
Selection: The New One (Nap) could foil what is a strong Irish team
4.00 Grade One OLBG David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle 2m 4f
This will all turn on Annie Power. If she settles and is capable of performing at close to her optimum level after her lay-off, she won't be troubled.
Her keenness was her undoing in the World Hurdle 12 months ago, but the manner in which she was gunned from the front at Doncaster previously won't have helped on that occasion.
If she is too gassy after her lay-off, she could make life difficult for herself, but it's hard to see her being beaten. She is the clear pick on official ratings.
Last year's runner-up Glens Melody could be her most potent threat. She thrashed the re-opposing Emily Gray at Warwick and has come to hand at the right time, so she is some deputy.
Polly Peachum is the pick of the home team if she leaves behind her poor Kempton turn.
Selection: Annie Power can lead home a one-two for her stable.
4.40 Toby Balding National Hunt Challenge Chase (Amateur riders) 4m
Very Wood sets a tall standard. A Grade One winner here in 2014, he bounced back to form to claim a Navan Grade Two in convincing style last time, and Nina Carberry's booking is a huge plus for his chances.
Thunder And Roses was third at Navan and should relish this trip, likewise the Job Is Right, which would have been second to Djakadam in the Thyestes but for falling at the last. He has a top man up in Derek O'Connor but he might prefer deeper ground.
Last year's Kim Muir second Cause Of Causes, Perfect Gentleman, Cogry and Sego Success could all have cases made for them.
Selection: In terms of quality, nothing gets close to Very Wood
5.15 CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices' Handicap Chase 2m 4f
Killala Quay was just six lengths behind Faugheen last year. He has plenty weight but he could yet prove far superior to a mark of 140.
Generous Ransom knuckled down gamely to hold on here in January and is just eight pounds higher now, while Irish Cavalier is two pounds higher after flashing home in third. There is more in him.
Robert Tyner's Leap Dearg may be the pick of the two raiders.
He completed his hat-trick despite a last-fence blunder at Naas, and this step up to two-and-a-half miles should suit.
The second and third from Naas have won since so the form is solid, and the mere six-pound handicap spread will help those further up the page.
Selection: Leap Dearg might have the quality to defy 11st 9lb