The big three – Shishkin, Energumene and Allmankind – have all stood their ground in the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy for what promises to be one of the races of the week at Cheltenham.
Twelve horses were left in following the confirmation stage – but all eyes will be on the trio, who are unbeaten over fences.
Shishkin, last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, flies the flag for Nicky Henderson. The seven-year-old has looked a natural over fences, with two impressive victories at Kempton and one at Doncaster.
Energumene, trained by Willie Mullins, has been just as convincing in Ireland – chalking up a hat-trick which culminated in the Irish version of the Arkle at Leopardstown last month.
Dan Skelton’s Allmankind has done everything asked of him so far too, with Grade One success at Sandown sandwiched by two wins at Warwick.
Mullins also has Blackbow and Franco De Port in the reckoning for Tuesday, while Felix Desjy could be Denise Foster’s first Festival runner since she took over the licence from Gordon Elliott following his suspension.
Dual Grade One winner Appreciate It heads 18 confirmations for the opening race of the four-day Festival, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Mullins’ charge has been clear ante-post favourite after winning all the his three starts over the smaller obstacles – including the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice and the Chanelle Pharma Novice, both at Leopardstown. He was runner-up in last year’s Champion Bumper.
Mullins has four other possibles in Blue Lord, Galopin Des Champs, Ganapathi and M C Muldoon.
Ballyadam, who was moved from Elliott’s stables last week by owners Cheveley Park Stud, is one three for Henry de Bromhead. Grade One scorer Bob Olinger and Irascible are the County Waterford trainer’s other possible representatives.
Leading the home challenge is the Harry Fry-trained Metier, winner of the Tolworth Hurdle, and Betfair Hurdle victor Soaring Glory from Jonjo O’Neill’s stable.
The Skeltons have a leading fancy in Roksana in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, for which 12 stood their ground.
Roksana was handed this prize two years ago after Benie Des Dieux came down at the last. Fourth to Honeysuckle 12 months ago, she also holds an entry in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.
Concertista, from the Mullins stable, looks a formidable rival. The seven-year-old landed the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle here in 2020 and has won two graded races this season.
Great White Shark and My Sister Sarah are the two other Mullins possibles. The Foster-trained Black Tears and Henderson’s pair Dame De Compagnie and Floressa are also in the mix.
Royale Pagaille tops 16 remaining in the Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase, following the six-day stage.
The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old completed a hat-trick in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock. He also holds entries in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.
David Pipe has confirmed Reynoldstown Chase winner Remastered – while other interesting contenders include the former Elliott-trained Galvin, now with Ian Ferguson, and Next Destination from the Nicholls yard.
Remastered is also one of 31 still in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Nick Mitchell’s Lieutenant Rocco, the Foster-trained Escaria Ten and Happygolucky, from Kim Bailey’s yard, are among those prominent in the ante-post market.
Gary Moore’s Nassalam and the Mullins-trained Youmdor head the weights, with 28 remaining in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Mullins supplies Saint Sam, while the Nicholls-trained Houx Gris and Joseph O’Brien’s Busselton are among others high in the betting.