The initial list of declarations for the Stan James Champion Hurdle have been made and we can look forward to a vintage renewal at Cheltenham in March. The list of 34 runners at this stage are headed up by Rock On Ruby who won the race so memorably in 2012 but he faces a mighty task to win the race for the second year on the bounce. Including Rock On Ruby the last four winners of the Champion Hurdle are entered with Punjabi, Binocular and Hurricane Fly all set to oppose the 2012 winner on the first day of the Festival. Connections of Rock On Ruby are reporting the horse to be in fine form at home following his seasonal debut last month when third in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham. He travelled well that day but seemed to tire up the hill to finish third behind Grandouet and Zarkandar who are both likely to re-oppose in the Champion Hurdle itself and trainer Harry Fry will be hoping to get one more run into the horse before going to the Festival. At the moment though it is Hurricane Fly who holds ante post favouritism with the Willie Mullins horse seemingly backed to his best and connections hopeful of winning the race for the second time in three years.
Trainer Nicky Henderson is responsible for no less than eight entries at this stage with Darlan, Punjabi, Binocular, Oscar Whisky and Cash And Go among his potential string for the race. Of those it looks as though Darlan could be the main threat for the Seven Barrows trainer after the horse won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton so well and he is the current second choice in the Champion Hurdle Betting. Oscar Whisky remains an inbetween horse in terms of trip but if the ground comes up soft at Cheltenham he has to have a very big chance at a nice price with his stamina proven. Other notable entries at this early stage include 2012 Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Cinders and Ashes and his stable mate Peddlers Cross who has been switched back to hurdles this season by trainer Donald McCain. Peddlers Cross is a former runner-up in the Champion Hurdle and after an unsuccessful spell over fences it is hoped that he regains his best form over the smaller obstacles at Cheltenham. He could add another fascinating angle to the Champion Hurdle which is already shaping up to be a cracking race and the highlight of the entire Festival in 2013.