Unowhatimeanharry stars among 21 acceptors for the £300,000 Grade One Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle (3.30pm) at Cheltenham on third day of The Festival, St Patrick's Thursday, March 16.
Unowhatimeanharry (5/4 favourite with Sun Bets) is unbeaten in eight starts for trainer Harry Fry and signed off last season with victory in the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at The Festival, after which he was bought privately by J P McManus.
The nine-year-old was impressive in beating Ballyoptic (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 16/1) on his return in a G2 contest at Newbury in November before a four and a half-length victory over Lil Rockerfeller (Neil King, 25/1) in the G1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot the following month.
Unowhatimeanharry defeated 2015 Stayers' Hurdle hero Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex, 14/1) and the novice West Approach (Colin Tizzard, 14/1) on his latest start in the G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, January 28.
Lil Rockerfeller has bumped into two leading Cheltenham contenders this season, having also been worn down close home by Stan James Champion Hurdle favourite Yanworth (Alan King, 7/1) in the G2 Coral Hurdle at Ascot in November. The six-year-old has not raced since finishing fourth behind Agrapart (Nick Williams, 40/1) on testing ground in the G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on January 1.
Trainer Neil King said today: "Lil Rockerfeller obviously missed the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell the other day as he wasn't quite firing on all cylinders.
"He is back in good order now and we took him to Lingfield earlier this week. He did a piece of work on the racecourse and went absolutely superbly.
"We took him out hunting yesterday as well. He has done it two or three times and really enjoys being out with the hounds. His ears were pricked and he thoroughly enjoyed himself all morning.
"He has got as close as anything has to Unowhatimeanharry this season off level weights. Assuming Unowhatimeanharry is the one to beat, it looks like we have sound each-way claims.
"He is very versatile in regards to ground. Good to soft going will be perfect."
Willie Mullins is responsible half of the eight Irish-trained confirmations. The quartet is made up of multiple G1 winner Nichols Canyon (7/1), Shaneshill (7/1), who has twice finished runner-up at The Festival, the versatile Clondaw Warrior (14/1) and Vroum Vroum Mag.
Jessica Harrington plans to run 2014 Stan James Champion Hurdle victor Jezki (7/1) after two good comeback runs this season, while Noel Meade relies on dual G2 victor Snow Falcon (14/1). Gordon Elliott has left in Dedigout (50/1)and Apple's Jade (14/1), although the latter is set to contest the OLBG Mares' Hurdle on Champion Day.
Other eye-catching acceptors are G1-winning chaser Taquin Du Seuil (Jonjo O'Neill, 33/1) and The New One (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 12/1), who has the Stan James Champion Hurdle as his target.
2.50pm £300,000 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) 2m 5f
Willie Mullins sent out the 1-2 in the 2016 Ryanair Chase as Vautour beat Valseur Lido and the trainer is responsible for three of the 18 contenders remaining in the championship contest this year, including Un De Sceaux, who has been victorious on two of his three previous appearances at Cheltenham.
The nine-year-old stormed to six-length victory in the Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase at The Festival in 2015 and returned last year to chase home Sprinter Sacre in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
He also triumphed at the course on his latest start, beating the 2015 Ryanair Chase winner Uxizandre (Alan King) by five lengths in the re-arranged G1 Spectra Cyber Security Solutions Clarence House Chase on Festival Trials Day, January 28.
Mullins has also left in brilliant two-mile chaser Douvan, who looks set to line up in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Ladies Day, and last season's OLBG Mares' Hurdle winner Vroum Vroum Mag, who has several alternative options at The Festival.
Empire Of Dirt (Gordon Elliott IRE) has also scored at The Festival, having won the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate on St Patrick's Thursday in 2016, and could bid to provide Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary, owner of Gigginstown House Stud, with a first victory in the race.
The Gigginstown House Stud colours may also be carried by Sub Lieutenant (Henry De Bromhead IRE), who was a close third behind Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders Djakadam and Outlander in the G1 John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase in December.
Zabana (Andrew Lynch IRE), a G1 winner at last year's Punchestown Festival and runner-up in the 2015 Coral Cup, also features among the six remaining Irish-trained entries.
The British challenge includes Josses Hill (Nicky Henderson), an impressive winner of the G2 Betfred Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon in December, plus the Colin Tizzard-trained pair of Fox Norton, who took the G2 Shloer Chase at The Open, and G1 Prix La Haye Jousselin runner-up Alary.
God's Own (Tom George) gained a pair of G1 victories at Aintree and Punchestown last year, while last season's Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup fifth Irish Cavalier (Rebecca Curtis) and Village Vic (Philip Hobbs), who has won two G3 handicap chases over the course and distance, also remain engaged.
1.30pm £150,000 JLT Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 2m 4f
Yorkhill (Willie Mullins IRE), successful in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at The Festival last year, heads 19 confirmations for the G1 JLT Novices' Chase. The eight-year-old is unbeaten in two chase starts, most recently when comfortably taking a G3 novices' chase at Leopardstown on January 22.
Top Notch (Nicky Henderson) was beaten a neck in the 2015 JCB Triumph Hurdle and has made a fine start to his chasing career, including victory in the G1 Betfred Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown Park on February 4.
Other leading contenders include fellow G1 winner Disko (Noel Meade), Charbel (Kim Bailey), who defeated Top Notch at Uttoxeter in October, and G2 victor Politologue (Paul Nicholls).
2.10pm £95,000 Pertemps Network Final (Handicap Hurdle) (Listed) 3m
A total of 43 six-day acceptors for the Listed Pertemps Network Final includes Tobefair (11st 8lb, Debra Hamer), who has won his seven most recent starts and risen from a mark of 81 to his current rating of 145.
Patrick Kelly captured the race 12 months ago with Mall Dini and the trainer has a strong contender again with Presenting Percy (11st 11lb), an easy winner at Fairyhouse on February 25.
Dual Haydock Park scorer Dadsintrouble (11st 1lb, Tim Vaughan), Exeter qualifier victor Impulsive Star (11st 5lb, Neil Mulholland) and Jury Duty (11st 10lb, Gordon Elliott IRE), successful in a Navan handicap hurdle in November, also remain engaged. The maximum field size is 24.
4.10pm £105,000 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (Handicap Chase) (Grade 3) 2m 5f
Last season's Coral Cup victor Diamond King (11st 4lb, Gordon Elliott IRE) and Bouvreuil (10st 13lb, Paul Nicholls), runner-up in the 2016 Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase, feature among 65 confirmations for the G3 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate.
Ryanair Chase contender Village Vic (11st 12lb, Philip Hobbs) could instead aim to enhance his fine record in handicap chases at Cheltenham, with G1 runner-up Baron Alco (11st, Gary Moore) also among those going forward. The safety limit is 24 runners.
4.50pm £80,000 Trull House Stud Mares Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 1f
Willie Mullins, Rich Ricci and Ruby Walsh teamed up to take the inaugural running of the G2 Trull House Stud Mares Novices' Hurdle with Limini in 2016 and the same combination look set to have another strong challenger in this year's race with Let's Dance.
The 25 acceptors also include the Mullins-trained Airlie Beach, Asthuria, Augusta Kate and Camelia De Cotte, while the Jessica Harrington-trained Forge Meadow also features in a strong Irish contingent.
Robert Collet, better known as one of France's leading Flat trainers, may have a rare UK runner over jumps with Titi De Montmartre, who has recorded a pair of G3 victories at Auteuil and Enghien.
La Bague Au Roi (Warren Greatrex) looks to be the leading British-trained hope after winning all three of her starts this season.
5.30pm £70,000 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase (Amateurs) (0-145) 3m 2f
Mall Dini (11st 10lb, Patrick Kelly IRE) could aim for a second victory at The Festival in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase, which has 64 confirmations.
Last year's Pertemps Network Final scorer has placed on all five of his chase starts this season, including when taking third behind A Genie In Abottle and Blazer at Fairyhouse in December.
Southfield Royale (11st 8lb, Neil Mulholland) came home fourth in the 2016 J T McNamara National Hunt Chase, while leading fancies Squouateur (11st 2lb, Gordon Elliott IRE) and The Crafty Butcher (10st 13lb, Willie Mullins IRE) will be relying on horses above them to come out to guarantee a place in the final field of 24.
Tickets still available
Tickets for all enclosures on the first three days of The Festival next week - Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday - are still available and can be bought through http://cheltenham.thejockeyclub.co.uk/
Purchasers of tickets for the Best Mate Enclosure and the Tattersalls Enclosure can print them at home, while Club Enclosure badges should be picked up at the collection point at Cheltenham Racecourse on the day.
All enclosures for the final day, Gold Cup Day, Friday, Mach 17 are sold out, though a few restaurant places can still be purchased. There are more hospitality offerings available on the first three days.
Good to Soft going
The going this afternoon at Cheltenham was described as Good to Soft.
The weather forecast: Mostly dry outlook with a little light rain on Sunday.