Solwhit (right) will do battle again with Celestial HaloPICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
Solwhit leads strong raiding party in Auteuil
Preview: France, Sunday (3.10pm BST)
Auteuil: Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil (Group 1 Hurdle) 3m1½f, 5yo+
ARGUABLY the strongest Anglo-Irish raiding party ever to descend on Auteuil gives France's version of the Champion Hurdle a distinctly unusual flavour.
Solwhit (Charles Byrnes/Davy Russell) heads most lists on the back of wins in Grade 1s at Cheltenham and Aintree, though he has no experience of Auteuil.
Byrnes is happy with the nine-year-old, who is seeking a fourth consecutive win, and said: "He travelled over fine and has settled in well. He's in good form."
While it will be Solwhit's first experience of the track, Celestial Halo (Paul Nicholls/Daryl Jacob) already has winning form at the course following victory in the Prix la Barka over 2m5½f at Auteuil three weeks ago.
Nicholls said: "These hurdles are what we school him over at home so he jumped them nicely last time and I think three miles will help him as well."
In the Prix la Barka, Thousand Stars (Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh) failed to really travel on rain-softened ground before staying on for fourth, while stablemate Zaidpour (Paul Townend) was back in seventh.
However, Auteuil in June has twice previously proved to be the time and place to see Thousand Stars at his best and he is likely to be heavily supported by Paris Mutuel players to record an historic hat-trick in the race.
A key race in determining the form of Thousand Stars in each of the last three seasons has been the John Smith's Aintree Hurdle and, to judge by his close third behind Zarkander in April, the nine-year-old retains all his talent and enthusiasm.
Reve De Sivola (Nick Williams/James Reveley) is another who deserves to be mentioned among the very best stayers in Britain and Ireland, having finished fourth to Solwhit at Cheltenham and then second to Quevega at Punchestown.
Home hopes would appear to rest with Nicolas Bertran de Balanda and Marcel Rolland.
Bertran de Balanda saddles the exciting Gemix, who has shown tremendous speed in his winning sequence this spring but is yet to tackle anything like this distance.
Rolland relies on the mud-loving Saint Du Chenet, who will appreciate the extended trip, as well as Barka runner-up Lord Prestige.
What They Say
Marcel Rolland, trainer of Saint Du Chenet and Lord Prestige
"We deliberately missed the Barka with Saint Du Chenet to keep him fresh. He schooled on Thursday and worked on Tuesday and is in great shape. For him I hope the storms arrive because he must have soft ground. Lord Prestige wants the opposite. Half an hour before the Barka it rained and without that I think he would have won. The rain certaily helped the English horse."
Willie Mullins, trainer of Thousand Stars, On His Own and Zaidpour
" We're much happier with Thousand Stars. On His Own was a little disappointing on his last run in Sligo but that's a tight, undulating circle and this track will suit him a lot better. I know Zaidpour disappointed in the race last year but that can I happen and I thought it was worth our while bringing him over again this year."
Nick Williams, trainer of Reve De Sivola
"I've been happy with him, particularly in the last few days since he came over and he schooled well,"
Nicolas Bertran de Balanada, trainer of Gemix
"He's done very well during his short break and has recovered very well from his win in the Prix Amadou. He settles a lot better these days and his work is very good so as far as the distance is concerned I think he's find. If I had too much doubt on that score he wouldn't be running."