Last year’s winner Flooring Porter and his recent Leopardstown conqueror Klassical Dream are among 33 entries for the Paddy Powers Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Flooring Porter made every yard of the running to claim Festival glory last March for Gavin Cromwell and Danny Mullins.
He had to make do with the runner-up spot behind the Willie Mullins-trained Klassical Dream in last month’s Christmas Hurdle and a rematch is likely to be on the cards in the Cotswolds.
Cromwell could also saddle Darver Star, while Closutton handler Mullins has seven contenders in total, with Asterion Forlonge and Melon both given the option of switching back to the smaller obstacles.
Asterion Forlonge fell at the final fence when seemingly booked for second behind stablemate Tornado Flyer in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Nicky Henderson has entered the JP McManus-owned pair of Buveur D’Air and Champ.
Dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air has been off the track since finishing fourth in the Aintree Hurdle last spring, while Champ successfully reverted to hurdles in the Long Walk at Ascot last month.
Champ has the option of returning to fences for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Henderson planning to make a decision on his Festival target nearer the time.
He said: “Champ has a Gold Cup and a Stayers’ Hurdle entry. It is a very difficult one to juggle and one we haven’t got to at this particular moment.
“No doubt, the most straightforward is the hurdles route, but on the other hand he has won an RSA.
“You can forget about the Gold Cup last year. He had a problem but we’ve ironed that out. The balls are up in the air.
“Ante-post markets have to be respected, but I can’t make decisions just to help things on that score.
“He is in both and they are both mega prizes. The Gold Cup is the blue riband, but the Stayers’ Hurdle isn’t bad either.”
Of Buveur D’Air, who has also been entered for the Champion Hurdle, he added: “We’ve put him in the Stayers’ Hurdle as well as his run over two-and-a-half at Aintree was a staggeringly good run.
“He tanked through the race and he got there too soon as his lead horse went over at the last on the far side.
“That left him with no cover and he tanked off. He was having such good fun. He showed us that day there is all sorts of life left in him.”
Thyme Hill, who was just under two lengths behind Champ when second in the Long Walk, is a likely runner for Philip Hobbs.
Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park and the Rebecca Curtis-trained Lisnagar Oscar, who won the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2019 and 2020 respectively, also feature.
Willie Mullins is responsible for eight of 28 initial entries for the Close Brothers’ Mares’ Hurdle.
Ireland’s perennial champion trainer has saddled nine previous winners of the Grade One contest, with six of those victories provided by the brilliant Quevega.
Mullins appears intent on adding to his tally, with recent Relkeel Hurdle winner Stormy Ireland and Burning Victory, a former winner of the Triumph Hurdle, two of his leading hopes.
Telmesomethinggirl won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival and could return for Henry de Bromhead, with Peter Fahey’s Royal Kahala and Paul Hennessy’s Heaven Help Us other major players for Ireland.