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Monday, January 19, 2004


There are no shortage of potential opponents willing to take on Rooster Booster as he bids to win the Smurfit Champion Hurdle for a second successive year on Tuesday, March 16, with 48 entries - the highest number since 1997 - revealed today (January 19, 2004) for the two-mile showpiece.

Indeed the five horses who finished immediately behind Rooster Booster in 2003 - Westender (2nd), Rhinestone Cowboy (3rd), Self Defense (4th), Intersky Falcon (5th) and In Contrast (6th) - are all entered again.

Rhinestone Cowboy and Intersky Falcon are among six entries from trainer Jonjo O’Neill, who as expected has not put the novice Lingo in the race but is represented by top Australian performer Specular, Hasty Prince, Quazar and a dark horse in Sir Robert Ogden’s Exotic Dancer, a top performer in France who has yet to race in Britain.

Ogden’s home-bred filly Flying Wanda, who finished second in last year’s Lancashire Oaks, is the only entry unraced over hurdles and she is one of four representatives for trainer Paul Nicholls, along with Tote Bula Hurdle winner Rigmarole, Pertemps Christmas Hurdle third Sporazene and the progressive handicapper Perouse.

Owners Graham and Andrea Wylie are represented by the Howard Johnson-trained pair Chivalry and Inglis Drever, who are both looking inexpensive for the 170,000gns and 110,000gns they respectively cost at Tattersalls in October.

Pertemps Christmas Hurdle fourth Foreman, trained by Francois Doumen bids to become the race’s first-ever French-trained winner while there is a noticeably strong contingent from Ireland with 13 entries.

These include the 66/1 winner of Leopardstown’s Grade 1 Festival Hurdle, Golden Cross, Hardy Eustace and Back In Front, respectively winners of last season’s Letheby & Christopher Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle, 2002 Weatherbys Champion Bumper hero Pizarro, the Bowe family’s superb mare Solerina and the 2003 Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle winner Spirit Leader.

The great Baracouda is one of 33 in the bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle with the 2003 runner-up Iris’s Gift entered to possibly re-enact one of the best races of last season.

Iris’s Gift’s trainer Jonjo O’Neill has also given Rhinestone Cowboy an entry in the three-mile event as well as recent Haydock Premier Stayers’ Hurdle winner Sh Boom. The Haydock second, Royal Rosa, is also engaged along with the likes of Calling Brave, the Peter Bowen-trained Jollyolly, a six-time winner between May and November, last season’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper hero Liberman and Galileo, winner of the 2002 Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle.

The 12 entries from Ireland include Hardy Eustace, Pizarro, last season’s Coral Cup hero Xenophon and Sacundai, who beat Rooster Booster at Aintree in April.

Edward Gillespie, Cheltenham’s Managing Director, commented: “It is great that the winners of last year’s Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Smurfit Champion Hurdle and bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle are not only all entered to defend their titles but currently favourites to do so.

“We are also delighted also to see a string of other Festival winners progressing to become contenders for the four big prizes at the 2004 Festival.”


2004 - 48
2003 - 44
2002 - 40
2001 - 47
2000 - 33
1999 - 41
1998 - 44
1997 - 50
1996 - 66
1995 - 24
1994 - 42
1993 - 50
1992 - 37
1991 - 38

bonusprint.com STAYERS' HURDLE
2004 - 33
2003 - 33
2002 - 48
2001 - 56
2000 - 36
1999 - 51
1998 - 43
1997 - 49
1996 - 51
1995 - 39
1994 - 52
1993 - 40
1992 - 56
1991 - 52


2004 - 13
2003 - 12
2002 - 12
2001 - 11
2000 - 7
1999 - 6
1998 - 10
1997 - 14
1996 - 12
1995 - 6
1994 - 9
1993 - 14
1992 - 5
1991 - 6

bonusprint.com STAYERS' HURDLE
2004 - 12
2003 - 6
2002 - 10
2001 - 12
2000 - 4
1999 - 5
1998 - 4
1997 - 10
1996 -13
1995 -8
1994 - 12
1993 - 10
1992 - 9
1991 - 7


1.The Champion Hurdle was inaugurated in 1927, with a value to the winner of £365. The race was abandoned in 1931 due to persistent frost, and in 1943 and 1944 because of the Second World War.

2. A glance at the race records will show that there have only been two sponsors of this prestigious race since its inception. This statistic conceals a dramatic turn of events in 1990, when a major banking group, whose intended sponsorship was to raise the added value of the race by 66 per cent to £120,000, withdrew before its first running. The Smurfit Group stepped in at that point and has remained a loyal sponsor ever since. In 2004, the race will have total prize money of £300,000.

3. The largest field has been 24 (1964 and 1991) and the smallest three (1932). The first five runnings of the race saw a total of only 24 runners between them.

4. The Champion Hurdle is a contest for multiple winners. Peter Easterby won the race most often as a trainer, with five victories from three horses, Saucy Kit (1967), Night Nurse (1976 and 1977) and Sea Pigeon (1980 and 1981). Vic Smyth and Fred Winter both had four wins, and a further five trainers have captured the hurdling crown on three occasions.

5. Among jockeys, Tim Molony won the race most often with four victories, on Hatton's Grace (1951) and Sir Ken (1952, 1953 & 1954). Fred Winter, Jimmy Uttley, Steve Smith Eccles and most recently Charlie Swan were each successful three times.

6. The most successful owner is still Dorothy Paget, who won the race four times thanks to Insurance (1932, 1933), Solford (1940) and Distel (1946).

7.Istabraq, successful in the three Champion Hurdles from 1998 to 2000, was retired after failing to become the first horse to win the race four times in 2002. The four other three-time winners are Hatton’s Grace (1949-51), Sir Ken (1952-54), Persian War (1968-70) and See You Then (1985-87).

8. The race has been won seven times by entires, but only twice by mares - Dawn Run (1984) and Flakey Dove (1994).

9. Four greys have won, the most recent being Rooster Booster in 2003. The others were Kribensis in 1990, Victor Nornian in 1936, and Our Hope in 1938. Only one roan horse has won the Champion Hurdle, Anzio in 1962.

10. Istabraq’s success in 2000 in a time of 3 minutes 48.1 seconds beat the previous Champion Hurdle record time, set by Make A Stand in 1997, of 3 minutes 48.4 seconds.


Grade 1, Class A, Showcase Race, Tuesday, March 16, 2004, £300,000 total prize fund, two miles and about half a furlong for four-year-olds and upwards. Weights: 4yo: 11st 3lb; 5yo and up: 11st 10lb; fillies and mares allowance 7lb. Entries closed January 14 (48 entries), entries released January 19, forfeit stage February 24, £15,000 supplementary entry stage March 11, five-day confirmation stage March 11, final declaration stage 10.15am, March 15. (Form correct up to Friday, January 16).

Form Horse Age Owner Trainer
1212-16 ALTAY 7 R M Jeffs & J Potter Richard Fahey
1-12215 BACK IN FRONT (IRE) 7 Nelius Hayes Edward O'Grady IRE
250-501 BENBYAS 7 C H Stephenson & Partners Declan Carroll
1 CHIVALRY 5 Andrea & Graham Wylie Howard Johnson
21416-2 CLOONE RIVER (IRE) 8 Kathleen Gillane Paul Nolan IRE
0F62-34 COPELAND 9 Professor David & Heather Silk Martin Pipe
111/3-42 DAVENPORT MILENIUM (IRE) 8 Miriam O'Callaghan Willie Mullins IRE
144-51 DEMI BEAU 6 Hugh Villiers Charlie Mann
12 DEMOPHILOS 6 Athos Christodoulou Dessie Hughes IRE
11 EXOTIC DANCER (FR) 4 Sir Robert Ogden Jonjo O'Neill
P-11143 FLAME CREEK (IRE) 8 Martin Wesson Partners Noel Chance
FLYING WANDA 4 Sir Robert Ogden Paul Nicholls
141-1F4 FOREMAN (GER) 6 J P McManus Thierry Doumen FR
211-3F3 FOTA ISLAND (IRE) 8 J P McManus Mouse Morris IRE
12405-2 GEOS (FR) 9 Thurloe Finsbury Nicky Henderson
6213-31 GOLDEN CROSS (IRE) 5 Exors of the late Mrs H Johnson Michael Halford IRE
1215-20 HARDY EUSTACE (IRE) 7 Laurence Byrne Dessie Hughes IRE
B1-1332 HASTY PRINCE 6 F F Racing Services Partnership III Jonjo O'Neill
3461-3P IN CONTRAST (IRE) 8 Tony Staple Philip Hobbs
111 INGLIS DREVER 5 Andrea & Graham Wylie Howard Johnson
115-131 INTERSKY FALCON 7 Interskyracingcom & Jackie O'Neill Jonjo O'Neill
U16111 ITALIAN COUNSEL (IRE) 7 B V Ward & C Feeney Luke Dace
1300-1 ITS WALLACE JNR 5 Michael Moriarty Sheena West
314-011 KHETAAM (IRE) 6 Mrs J Hurley Noel Meade IRE
112-5F1 KICKING KING (IRE) 6 Conor Clarkson Tom Taaffe IRE
2414-1P LILIUM DE COTTE (FR) 5 J P McManus Nicky Henderson
161-2P LIMERICK BOY (GER) 6 Favourites Racing Venetia Williams
212-RP MAN O'MYSTERY (USA) 7 Bjorn Nielsen Paul Webber
50-1342 MONKERHOSTIN (FR) 7 Martin St Quinton Philip Hobbs
00-012P MR COOL 10 Nick Mills Martin Pipe
621112 PEROUSE 6 J Dickson & S McVie Paul Nicholls
104-122 QUAZAR (IRE) 6 David Carr Jonjo O'Neill
1113-16 RHINESTONE COWBOY (IRE) 8 Sue Magnier Jonjo O'Neill
121411 RIGMAROLE 6 Mr & Mrs Mark Woodhouse Paul Nicholls
3211-44 RISKY REEF 7 Ergon Syndicate Andrew Lee IRE
112-521 ROOSTER BOOSTER 10 Terry Warner Philip Hobbs
011510 ROYALEETY (FR) 5 Mr & Mrs John Poynton Ian Williams
24P-124 SELF DEFENSE 7 Fraser Miller Racing Emma Lavelle
11 SHAYADI (IRE) 7 Ashley Carr Brian Ellison
11-3114 SOLERINA (IRE) 7 John Bowe James Bowe IRE
11-1123 SPECULAR (AUS) 8 J P McManus Jonjo O'Neill
1511-62 SPIRIT LEADER (IRE) 8 Dil Thompson Jessica Harrington IRE
331-123 SPORAZENE (IRE) 5 Ged Mason & David Jackson Paul Nicholls
2336-13 STAGE AFFAIR (USA) 10 Dr Michael Smurfit Dermot Weld IRE
112////-1F TOM PADDINGTON 9 Martin & Mary Wilson (Camp Farm Racing) Hughie Morrison
51/063/-6 ULUNDI 9 David Heath Paul Webber
1123-15 WELL CHIEF (GER) 5 David Johnson Martin Pipe
22/323-P WESTENDER (FR) 8 Matt Archer & Jean Broadhurst Martin Pipe

48 entries, 13 Irish-trained, 1 French-trained

Breakdown of Entries per Trainer and Past Successes in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle

6 Entries
Jonjo O’Neill

4 Entries
Paul Nicholls
Martin Pipe (1993 Granville Again, 1997 Make A Stand)

3 Entries
Philip Hobbs (2003 Rooster Booster)

2 Entries
Nicky Henderson (1985, 1986, 1987 See You Then)
Dessie Hughes IRE
Howard Johnson
Paul Webber

1 Entry
James Bowe IRE
Declan Carroll
Noel Chance
Luke Dace
Thierry Doumen FR
Brian Ellison
Richard Fahey
Michael Halford IRE
Jessica Harrington IRE
Emma Lavelle
Andrew Lee IRE
Charlie Mann
Noel Meade IRE
Mouse Morris IRE
Hughie Morrison
Willie Mullins IRE
Paul Nolan IRE
Edward O’Grady IRE
Tom Taaffe IRE
Dermot Weld IRE
Sheena West
Ian Williams
Venetia Williams


Davenport Milenium (Willie Mullins IRE)
Fota Island (Mouse Morris IRE)
Hardy Eustace (Dessie Hughes IRE)
Limerick Boy (Venetia Williams)
Rhinestone Cowboy (Jonjo O’Neill)
Solerina (James Bowe IRE)


The 48 entries received for the 2004 Smurfit Champion Hurdle represent an increase of four on the 2003 total and the highest number since 1997.

Heading the entries is the reigning champion Rooster Booster, who got back to winning ways last time out when successful in the Red Square Vodka Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock Park on January 11. Trainer Philip Hobbs also has In Contrast and Monkerhostin engaged in the contest.

In addition to Rooster Booster, the 2003 runner-up Westender, third Rhinestone Cowboy, fourth Self Defense, fifth Intersky Falcon and sixth In Contrast are all entered again.

The trainer with the highest number of entries is Jonjo O’Neill, who has a total of six horses engaged. These are headed by Rhinestone Cowboy, last year’s third, who disappointed badly last time at Leopardstown over Christmas and Intersky Falcon, fifth last season and a dual winner of Kempton’s Pertemps Christmas Hurdle.

The other entries from Jackdaws Castle include Hasty Prince and Australian import Specular, second and third respectively behind Rooster Booster at Haydock, as well as Quazar, victorious in the Grade 1 Emo Oil Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in 2003. The O’Neill half dozen is completed by Exotic Dancer, a very good hurdler in France who has yet to make his debut in Britain for new owner Sir Robert Ogden.

Another trainer well represented is Paul Nicholls, who has four entries. These are headed by Rigmarole, successful twice at Prestbury Park already this season in the Rehabilitation Of Racehorses Hurdle (under top weight) and the Grade Two Tote Bula Hurdle, when he had Davenport Milenium back in second, Hasty Prince third, Flame Creek fourth, Rooster Booster fifth and Spirit Leader sixth.

Nicholls’ other entries are Sporazene, winner of the Grade 1 IAWS Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown last season and third to Intersky Falcon in the Christmas Hurdle on his latest outing, the progressive handicapper Perouse and Flying Wanda, formerly a very useful performer on the Flat for Jeremy Noseda (second in the Group 3 Lancashire Oaks) who has not yet had a run over hurdles.

There is a strong entry from Ireland with a total number of 13 horses hailing from across the Irish Sea. Solerina (also entered in the bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle) has been a real star for the Bowe family both this season and last and looks the natural successor to Limestone Lad. She has been in good form this season, winning the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in November.

The most significant race run over hurdles in Ireland this season was the Grade 1 Bewleys Hotel Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29, which went to 66/1 outsider Golden Cross who defeated last season’s Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle heroine Spirit Leader by a length and a half, with the Noel Chance-trained Flame Creek in third, Solerina fourth, the 2003 Letheby & Christopher Supreme Novices’ Hurdle victor Back In Front in fifth, Rhinestone Cowboy a disappointing sixth and last season’s Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle winner Hardy Eustace seventh.

Other interesting Irish contenders include Davenport Milenium, who most recently finished runner-up to Rigmarole in the Tote Bula Hurdle, former smart Flat performer Demophilos, the 2001 St Leger runner-up and a winner at Leopardstown last month, last season’s Letheby & Christopher Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Kicking King and Risky Reef, impressive winner of a Listed handicap hurdle at Aintree last season.

There is one entry from France in the shape of Thierry Doumen’s Foreman, who came fourth to Hardy Eustace in last season’s Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle. He was last seen out at Kempton over Christmas when fourth to Intersky Falcon in the Pertemps Christmas Hurdle.

Martin Pipe already has two Smurfit Champion Hurdles under his belt and there could be four possible representatives from his Nicholashayne base this year. These are the 2003 runner-up Westender, Copeland, who fell three out when still very much in contention last year, Mr Cool and Well Chief.

Nicky Henderson has two to choose from with Geos, fourth in the 2002 Smurfit Champion Hurdle and fourth in last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, holding only a Smurfit Champion Hurdle entry this year. Henderson’s other entry is Lilium De Cotte, fourth in the 2003 JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Owner Graham Wylie and trainer Howard Johnson have been firing on all cylinders this season with their team of expensive purchases and the County Durham trainer has made entries for both Chivalry and Inglis Drever in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle. Chivalry, who landed the 2003 Cambridgeshire at Newmarket for Sir Mark Prescott, got his hurdling career off to the perfect start when defeating Vintage Premium in a novices’ race at Ayr in November on his only start to date. Inglis Drever is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles with victories in a novices’ hurdle at Aintree, the Grade 2 Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown Park and most recently in the Grade 2 Pertemps Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick on January 10.

THE 2004 bonusprint.com STAYERS’ HURDLE

Class A, Grade One, Total Prize Fund £140,000, Cheltenham, Thursday, March 18, 2004, three miles. For 4yo & upwards. Weights: 4yo 11st; 5yo & upwards 11st 10lb. Allowances: fillies & mares 5lb. Entries closed January 14, entries revealed January 19 (33 entries), forfeit stage February 24, £7,000 supplementary entry stage March 13, five-day confirmation stage March 13, final declaration stage 10.15am March 17. Form figures supplied by Weatherbys and are correct up to and including the racing of Friday, January 16, 2004, and may not include some overseas form.

Form Horse Age Owner Trainer
1/121-11 BARACOUDA (FR) 9 J P McManus Francois Doumen FR
200-111 CALLING BRAVE (IRE) 8 Sir Robert Ogden Nicky Henderson
212-212 CRYSTAL D'AINAY (FR) 5 Tony Fisher & Jeni Fisher Alan King
111/3-42 DAVENPORT MILENIUM (IRE) 8 Miriam O'Callaghan Willie Mullins IRE
211-3F3 FOTA ISLAND (IRE) 8 J P McManus Mouse Morris IRE
11/06- GALILEO (POL) 8 Sharon Nelson, Allan Stennett, Terry Warner Tom George
102-416 GRALMANO (IRE) 9 Coleorton Moor Racing Kevin Ryan
1215-20 HARDY EUSTACE (IRE) 7 Laurence Byrne Dessie Hughes IRE
000-100 HOLY ORDERS (IRE) 7 A McLuckie Willie Mullins IRE
111121- IRIS'S GIFT 7 Robert Lester Jonjo O'Neill
110111 JOLLYOLLY 5 Eamonn O'Malley Peter Bowen
16P-021 KADARA (IRE) 5 Norma Kelly Robert Alner
1/121-1P LIBERMAN (IRE) 6 David Johnson Martin Pipe
161-2P LIMERICK BOY (GER) 6 Favourites Racing Venetia Williams
2-15051 MISTANOORA 5 A M J Duggan Nigel Twiston-Davies
160-010 NEWLANDS GOLD (IRE) 5 Sean Mulryan Michael O'Brien IRE
2F-41P1 PIZARRO (IRE) 7 E Wallace Edward O'Grady IRE
15/11//- PRINCE MADOC (IRE) 8 Joseph Leitch Mark Bradstock
F26/-65P PRINCE OF TARA (IRE) 7 James J Swan Oliver Brady IRE
UP1F1U REDEMPTION 9 John Duggan & Michael Purtill Nigel Twiston-Davies
1113-16 RHINESTONE COWBOY (IRE) 8 Sue Magnier Jonjo O'Neill
110-012 ROSAKER (USA) 7 High Street Ceathar Syndicate Noel Meade IRE
161-112 ROYAL ROSA (FR) 5 Andrea & Graham Wylie Howard Johnson
11-2251 SACUNDAI (IRE) 7 Malm Syndicate Edward O'Grady IRE
5P-2211 SH BOOM 6 TG K Construction Ltd Jonjo O'Neill
3/2424/-5 SLEEPING NIGHT (FR) 8 David & F A Jackson Paul Nicholls
11-3114 SOLERINA (IRE) 7 John P Bowe James Bowe IRE
1222-23 STORMEZ (FR) 7 David Johnson Martin Pipe
21F2-3F TARXIEN 10 Brian Kilpatrick Martin Pipe
F-01105 THE FRENCH FURZE (IRE) 10 Jim Ennis Nicky Richards
4/-43153 TURTLE SOUP (IRE) 8 M K George Tom George
1/211-3F XENOPHON (IRE) 8 Lane Syndicate Tony Martin IRE
105-016 YOGI (IRE) 8 Patrick Delaney Jnr Tom Foley IRE

33 entries
12 Irish
1 French

bonusprint.com STAYERS’ HURDLE FACTS

1. The bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle is one of the youngest races at the National Hunt Meeting. It was only introduced in its current form in 1972. Before that, it was the Spa Hurdle, now run at Cheltenham's New Year Meeting.

2. The bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle is probably the only race to have been run on each of the three days of the meeting. It moved to Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup Day in 1993.

3. Its first year of sponsorship was 1972, under the title of the Lloyds Bank Hurdle. There have only been three sponsors of the race, Waterford Crystal backed the contest from 1978 to 1990 while this will be the 14th year (including when cancelled in 2001) of sponsorship by Bonusprint and it is being run as the bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle for the first time.

4. The bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle is a favourite with the Irish, who have won it nine times, most recently in 1995 with Dorans Pride. Baracouda provided a first success for France in 2002 and followed up again last season.

5. The late Fulke Walwyn is the only trainer to have won it more than twice. The race was dominated in the mid-eighties by Crimson Embers, trained by Walwyn, and a winner of the race in 1982 and 1986. Indeed, Crimson Embers would have been awarded the race in the stewards’ room in 1985 had his rider declined to give evidence to the enquiry after the race, but the trainer won the race anyway with Rose Ravine. The owner, Pam Smart, was ambivalent about the result - she owned both horses!

Breakdown of Entries per Trainer and Past Successes in the bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle

3 Entries
Jonjo O’Neill
Martin Pipe (1994 Balasani, 1996 Cyborgo)

2 Entries
Tom George
Willie Mullins IRE
Edward O’Grady IRE
(1978 Flame Gun, 1980 Mountrivers)
Nigel Twiston-Davies

1 Entry
Robert Alner
James Bowe IRE
Peter Bowen
Mark Bradstock
Oliver Brady IRE
Francois Doumen FR
(2002 and 2003 Baracouda)
Tom Foley IRE
Nicky Henderson
(1989 Rustle, 2000 Bacchanal)
Dessie Hughes IRE
Howard Johnson
Alan King
Tony Martin IRE
Noel Meade IRE
Mouse Morris IRE (1990 Trapper John)
Paul Nicholls
Michael O’Brien IRE
Nicky Richards
Kevin Ryan
Venetia Williams


This year’s 33 entries for the bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle are headed by previous dual winner, the Francois Doumen-trained Baracouda, who proved a neck too strong for Bannow Bay in this championship contest in 2002, before returning to Prestbury Park last season to get the better of a cracking renewal by three-quarters of a length from Iris’s Gift.

This season Baracouda has been unextended in two starts, beating old rival Deano’s Beeno by seven lengths in a Grade 2 event at Newbury in November, before easily scoring by 30 lengths from Mr Cool in a Grade 1 contest at Ascot the following month.

Iris’s Gift, who is one of three entries from Jonjo O’Neill, has only been seen once since producing his brilliant effort for a novice in this heat last year. He subsequently won a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle at Aintree in April, coming home eight lengths clear of Royal Emperor.

O’Neill could also run Rhinestone Cowboy, who also ran brilliantly as a novice when third in last season’s Smurfit Champion Hurdle behind Rooster Booster and won a handicap hurdle at Haydock in December, and Sh Boom, the winner of his last two starts in the Unicoin New Homes Spa Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Eve, beating Crystal D’Ainay by a length, and a Grade 2 heat at Haydock earlier this month, when accounting for Royal Rosa by eight lengths.

Solerina, trained by James Bowe, best known for his handling of Limestone Lad, could be another star to emerge from this small Irish stable. The Toulon mare has won nine of her 12 starts over timber including the Grade 1 Ballymore Properties Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on November 30, when eight lengths too powerful for Florida Coast.

Irish compatriots Sacundai and Pizarro hail from the powerful yard of Edward O’Grady, who has won this event twice courtesy of Flame Gun in 1978 and Mountrivers two years later.

The former got the better of Rooster Booster by a head in last season’s Martell Cognac Aintree Hurdle in April and justified favouritism by seven lengths from Be My Belle on his last start in a Grade 2 hurdle at Leopardstown just after Christmas. Pizarro has been novice chasing this season after being beaten a length by the Dessie Hughes-trained Hardy Eustace in last year’s Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Holy Orders and Davenport Milenium, second in Cheltenham’s Tote Bula Hurdle last month, both trained by Willie Mullins, the Oliver Brady-trained Prince Of Tara, Yogi, trained by Tom Foley, the Tony Martin-trained Xenophon, winner of last season’s Coral Cup, Noel Meade’s Rosaker and Newlands Gold, trained by Michael O’Brien, complete the 12-strong possible challenge from the Emerald Isle.

Champion trainer Martin Pipe has won the bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle twice with Balasani in 1994 and two years later with Cyborgo and the master of Nicholashayne will be keen to complete the hat-trick with one of Stormez, Tarxien or Liberman.

Stormez has been chasing for the last two seasons and was runner-up in last year’s National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, Tarxien has also been tackling the bigger obstacles for the last two terms, falling in the 2003 Cathcart Challenge Cup Chase at the same event, while Liberman, the winner of last season’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper, won a maiden hurdle at Musselburgh last month but was disappointing on his latest start, pulling up at Haydock on January 10.

Nicky Henderson won this heat in 1989 with Rustle and again in 2000 thanks to Bacchanal. The Seven Barrows handler has entered Calling Brave, who has three hurdle successes to his name including a five-length victory over Sh Boom in a handicap hurdle at Aintree in November. This form looks good now although the eight-year-old has recently begun his chasing career, a sphere in which he remains unbeaten after two starts at Folkestone and Sandown.

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