Where the main contenders will run before the Festival

Cheltenham is the destination but the pathway can be very different

PICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos) Festival focus: where the main contenders will run By Stuart Riley 4:30PM 17 JAN 2017

WITH the first of the final festival prep races coming this weekend at Ascot, Haydock, Navan and Leopardstown we take a look at where the main contenders for the four championship races will run en route to Cheltenham…

Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy

Faugheen (best-priced 9-4) the favourite is said to be on track for his long-awaited reappearance in the Grade 1 BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on January 29, the race he won by 15 lengths when last seen.

Yanworth (5-1) Sandown's Listed Betfred Contenders Hurdle on February 4 has been mooted as Alan King's joint second favourite continues his journey back to the festival.

Faugheen-360

Faugheen has not been seen since last year's Irish Champion Hurdle

PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos

Annie Power (5-1) has not been seen since Aintree last year and there's no set target as she continues to recover. She may have to go straight to the festival – if she makes it back in time.

Petit Mouchoir (8-1) a clash with Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle could be on the cards. He would be the one to beat if last year's sensational winner does not turn up.

Brain Power (12-1) has been impressive in two big handicap wins this season and could put his Champion Hurdle credentials to the test by taking on Yanworth at Sandown.

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Douvan (4-9) the Grade 2 BoyleSports Tied Cottage at Punchestown on February 5 has been suggested for putting the finishing touches to the festival's shortest-priced favourite.

Fox Norton (8-1) has been recovering from a nasty cut sustained when running away with the Shloer Chase in November and he will have his festival prep run Newbury on February 11 for the Grade 2 Betfair Exchange Game Spirit Chase.

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Un De Sceaux

Un De Sceaux ran away with the Clarence House last year

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

Altior (8-1) trainer Nicky Henderson is taking the same route from Kempton to Cheltenham as he took with Sprinter Sacre the year he won the Arkle and taking on Fox Norton in the Game Spirit.

Un De Sceaux (14-1) is the 5-6 favourite for Saturday's Grade 1 Berkshire Community Foundation Clarence House Chase, a race he won last year by five lengths.

Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle

Unowhatimeanharry (5-2) the favourite will bid for an eighth consecutive victory over the Stayers' Hurdle course and distance in the Grade 2 Galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on January 28.

Vroum Vroum Mag (7-1) the super sub has entries in the Champion Hurdle, Mares' Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair, Gold Cup and this and where she has her prep run is just as open.

JEZKI Ridden by Barry Geraghty wins The Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham 11/3/14

The 2014 Champion Hurdle winner Jezki (quartered cap) could make his long-awaited return at Navan this weekend

PICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)

Nichols Canyon (12-1) where he goes next could be dependant on Faugheen's return as the obvious deputy in the Mullins yard should he not make it to the Irish Champion Hurdle. If Faugheen does make it then he has a whole host of options over a variety of trips, including the Grade 2 John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park on January 26 if they want to test his stamina.

Ballyoptic (14-1) fell at the last when alongside Unowhatimeanharry in the Long Walk at Ascot and could get weight from the same opponent in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Jezki (14-1) has been off the track since beating Hurricane Fly at the 2015 Punchestown festival but is due back at Navan this weekend. The Grade 2 Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park on February 18.

Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup

Thistlecrack (Evs) trainer Colin Tizzard wants to get more jumping experience into the first novice to win the King George VI Chase and has earmarked the Grade 2 Betbright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on January 28.

Native River (6-1) the Hennessy and Welsh National winner is set for another trip to Newbury on February 11 for the Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase.

Thistlecrack

Last year's World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack will run again before bidding for a second festival success in the Gold Cup

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

Djakadam (12-1) connections feel the Grade 1 Stan James Irish Gold Cup on February 12 may fall a bit close to the festival this year and Djakadam could go straight to Cheltenham.

Outlander (14-1) while Djakadam may skip the Irish Gold Cup the trainer of his Lexus Chase conqueror Gordon Elliott has suggested it looks the obvious race for Outlander.

Cue Card (14-1) with his trainer Colin Tizzard juggling five potential runners a drop back in trip has been mooted. The horse who fell three out when still travelling in last year's Gold Cup could blow the cobwebs away in the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase on February 18.

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