The previous four winners of the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle could all re-oppose at The Festival in March, with Hardy Eustace (2004 & 2005), Brave Inca (2006), Sublimity (2007) and last seasons champion Katchit among the 34 entries for this years race, the highlight of the first day of The Festival on Tuesday, March 10. The extended two-mile contest is one of the few races to elude Paul Nicholls and this year the champion trainer looks set to rely on Celestial Halo and Rippling Ring, who both run in the famous red, white and black silks of the Stewart Family. Celestial Halos first season over hurdles culminated with victory in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival last year and the five-year-old started the current campaign with a fine second to last years Supreme Novices Hurdle runner-up and current ante-post Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle favourite Binocular in the Grade Two Boylesports.com International at Ascot last time out.
Other notable entries for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle include last years second and third Osana and Punjabi, Snap Tie, who lowered the colours of Katchit on his seasonal reappearance at Kempton, as well as Crack Away Jack and Ashkazar, who finished first and second in last seasons Fred Winter Juvenile Novices Handicap Hurdle. Rippling Ring also enjoyed a good first campaign over hurdles last season and was fifth in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at last years Festival on only his second appearance over hurdles.
A strong Irish challenge of 15 also includes Sizing Europe, successful in last seasons Irish Champion Hurdle, Grade One winners Jered, Catch Me, Harchibald and Won In The Dark, and the classy novice Hurricane Fly. The French entry is the Francois Doumen-trained Onnix, who was sixth in last years Pertemps Final at The Festival and is owned by Sir Michael Smurfit.