Mullins big guns head Champion entry

Willie Mullins has nine of the 28 initial entries for the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with no surprise omissions.

Faugheen: Champion Hurdle entry

His last two winners of the race, Faugheen and Annie Power, haven't been seen so far this season but they are both among the entries along with Vroum Vroum Mag, all three being owned by Susannah Ricci.

Clondaw Warrior, Diakali, Footpad, Ivan Grozny, Nichols Canyon and Wicklow Brave are also in there for Mullins.

The other four Irish-trained entries feature 2014 Champion Hurdle victor Jezki (Jessica Harrington), who has not raced since April, 2015, Petit Mouchoir (Henry De Bromhead), who thrashed Nichols Canyon by eight lengths in a G1 contest at Leopardstown over Christmas, and G1 Hatton's Grace Hurdle heroine Apple's Jade (Gordon Elliott).

The leading British-trained challenger is Yanworth (Alan King) after his three and a quarter-length victory over The New One (Nigel Twiston-Davies), third, fifth and fourth in the last three Stan James Champion Hurdles, in the G1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park.

Yanworth has won six of his seven starts over hurdles, with his sole defeat coming at the hands of Yorkhill in last year's Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at The Festival.

Nicky Henderson has enjoyed five Champion Hurdles wins, more than any other current trainer, and his five 2017 contenders are headed by Brain Power. The progressive six-year-old has a rating of 162 following a five-length success in a valuable G3 handicap hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas. My Tent Or Yours, runner-up in both 2014 and 2016, Buveur D'Air, L'Ami Serge and Top Notch complete his hand.

An unknown quantity among the entries is Cyrus Darius, who has a 100 per cent record over obstacles. Trained by Malcolm Jefferson, the eight-year-old is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles including a 10-length demolition of his rivals in the 2015 G2 Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree's Grand National Festival. Cyrus Darius has not raced since scoring on his chasing debut at Perth in September, 2015.

Jefferson said: "Cyrus Darius is doing great. He is entered in the StanJames.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock at the weekend and, all being well, he will go there.

"We have decided to go back over hurdles for now. He improved a lot over hurdles and ended up being quite impressive at Aintree.

"The owners have said they would like to have a go over hurdles, so we will see how things go on Saturday before deciding what we do for the rest of the season.

"He is a big horse and is as ready as I can get him at home. He has done a lot of steady work, which has gradually built up, and his schooling has been very good. He is in great nick, but it is his first run for a long time and, at this time of year, you are meeting race-fit horses on testing ground.

"I am expecting him to run a real nice race, although if he does need it he won't be knocked about."

Other Champion Hurdle contenders include last year's County Hurdle winner Superb Story, one of three horses entered by Dan Skelton, Stan James Elite Hurdle victor Sceau Royal (Alan King) and Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Moon Racer (David Pipe).

Read More at Sporting Life

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