The feature race of the opening day of the Festival is the Stan James Champion Hurdle. Run over two miles, previous winners include the 2011 and 2013 winner Hurricane Fly, who retired in August after winning a record 22 Grade 1 races, and J.P McManus’s triple Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq.
Last year’s winner Faugheen, who soundly beat stable mates Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon in the Irish Champion Hurdle, has been ruled out of the Festival due to injury. Whilst this is a significant blow to the Mullins’ team, the leading Irish trainer has several other worthy candidates to take Faugheen’s place.
Stable mate Nichols Canyon won a Grade 1 in Ireland over the Christmas period but finished a distant third behind Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle last year. With Faugheen injured, this year’s Champion Hurdle is arguably his best chance of landing the title.
Former World Hurdle runner-up Annie Power is likely to be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle after impressing when winning at Punchestown in February – albeit in a poorly contested race. The eight year-old,who fell at the final hurdle in last year’s Mares’ Hurdle, is highly versatile and connections are yet to decide which race to choose. She has proven speed, as well as stamina, and so could be a leading player in this year’s renewal.
The British challenge is likely to be headed by the ever-consistent The New One. A winner at the 2013 Festival, he finished an unlucky third in the 2014 renewal when badly hampered by the fatal fall of Our Conor. He then went on to finish fifth last year after a difficult build up to the race. Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies remains optimistic about his stable star’s chances as he has only finished out of the top three twice in his 23-race career.
This season he was second behind Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and was workman-like when winning the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock in unfavourable conditions.
Nicky Henderson has five entered including the 2015 Triumph Hurdle winner Peace And Co, Top Notch, and 2014 runner-up My Tent Or Yours. Peace And Co who disappointed on both his starts this season when finishing sixth at Cheltenham and third at Sandown, is uncertain to run at this stage.
My Tent Or Yours has been off the track since the 2014 Scottish Champion Hurdle but he is a proven Grade 1 performer, when winning the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdles, and could run well if back to form.