Buveur D'Air: is the 7-2 favourite after switching from novice chasingPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Champion Hurdle: one month until the big race
INJURY to Annie Power and Faugheen has blown this year's Stan James Champion Hurdle wide open, with those previously on the fringes becoming major contenders and others rerouted to take advantage. Here's everything you need to know...
The main contenders
Buveur D'Air - best price 7-2
Heading the market now is precisely one of those horses rerouted from elsewhere, last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle third Buveur D'Air. His subsequent neck victory over Petit Mouchoir in the Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree is perhaps his key piece of form, given he's been novice chasing this season, but he was impressively athletic on his return to hurdles at Sandown - a decision that was mooted before Faugheen's withdrawal and represents one of the biggest tips in itself.
Petit Mouchoir - best price 9-2
His visually impressive Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle defeat of decent yardstick Nichols Canyon over Christmas has been followed up with victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle. We could be talking about three wins in a row this season were it not for a fall when looking the most likely winner in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November and he is clearly Ireland's leading contender right now to deliver the country a fifth straight win in the race.
Yanworth - best price 5-1
Originally a contender for the Stayers' Hurdle, Unowhatimeanharry's emergence caused him to be switched to this earlier this season. He looked sharper than he did on his first start of the year at Ascot when winning the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle from The New One at Kempton and, with a mark of 164, he deserves his place. With stamina perhaps his greatest asset, trainer Alan King will be hoping for a fiercely-run contest that should see Yanworth at the sharp end of affairs coming up the hill.
Yorkhill: beat Yanworth in the Neptune but needs to be supplementedPICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
Yorkhill - 6-1 (needs to be supplemented)
Like Buveur D'Air, Yorkhill was also sent over fences, but he could also go back hurdling if Willie Mullins decides he can make up for the loss of Faugheen and Annie Power (albeit he has a different owner). Last year's Neptune winner - in which he defeated Yanworth - Yorkhill also won an Aintree Grade 1 over hurdles that included the now Grade 2-winning chaser Flying Angel, and it is hard to imagine him being anything other than a major player if Mullins goes this way.
Brain Power - best price 15-2
The six-year-old has been impressively progressive and is not one to write off lightly. With an offcial rating of 162 Brain Power is rated the equal of Petit Mouchoir and while he needs to show he can do more than defeat Consul De Thaix, which he has done twice this term, he has a Grade 1 third on his CV.
Change in the air
The Champion Hurdle market has been shaken up in recent weeks by defections but this weekend it could be the action on the track that causes things to change.
There is every chance we could have a new favourite by Saturday evening. Should Yanworth impress at Wincanton in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle he could move to the head of the market, while if he is to meet with defeat against the likes of stablemate Sceau Royal and Ch'Tibello it will surely cause a shake-up for opposite reasons.
Jezki: was impressive on his return from 21 months offPICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
Just 20 minutes later at Gowran Park there could be further upheaval as 2014 Champion Hurdle winner and eight-time Grade 1 winner Jezki takes the second step on his return from 21 months off the track in the Grade 3 Red Mills Trial Hurdle.
He could face Mares' Hurdle hope Limini, Rashaan - the horse hammered by the British handicapper - and fellow JP McManus-owned potential dark horse Sutton Place. A win for either could make them a serious contender in a wide open year.
With Willie Mullins' hand severely depleted last year's Mares' Hurdle winner Vroum Vroum Mag could be redirected here and she is a best-priced 10-1. She has only ever lost once in 13 starts in Britain and Ireland and a winning attitude can often prove to be half the battle.
The 12-1 about Jezki would vanish in an instant if he wins on Saturday and as the only previous winner left in the race he could easily go favourite if showing his old class remains undimmed. He would be a brilliantly popular winner if he could roll the clock back.
The New One: has finished third, fifth and fourth in the last three renewalsPICTURE: john Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
The only horse who would perhaps be a more popular winner is the locally-trained The New One, a best-priced 20-1. The 2013 Neptune winner has finished third, fifth and fourth in the last three runnings of this and has shown he has lost little ability with his performances so far in 2016-17. Rated 163, he has the class to be here but he has shown over the years that he is always vulnerable to the best of his peers - but they are missing this time. If it is ever to be his year, maybe it is this.
We do not know all that much about 16-1 chance Sutton Place, but he won the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas last month with a turn of foot that suggested he is well above average. That was his first start in almost a year but this six-year-old is fast-improving and victory against Jezki on Saturday would see him join a band of promising young pretenders to the crown. He is another who needs supplementing.
Last year's County Hurdle winner Superb Story is another at 16-1 with the potential to improve, while 20-1 hope Apple's Jade is currently the favourite for the Mares' Hurdle but she was well fancied for this at the start of the season after her scintillating wins at Aintree and Punchestown. She would be a major player based on her Aintree form.