Key questions as previous festival winners collide in rollicking Relkeel Hurdle
Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle | Grade 2 | 2m4½f | 5yo+ | ITV/RTV
Can Janika go one better on Cheltenham return?
There is no shortage of recent Cheltenham Festival form on show in this edition of the Relkeel Hurdle but rather than one of the three previous festival winners in the field, it is last season's Stable Plate runner-up Janika who heads the betting.
Since joining Nicky Henderson from France, Janika has been campaigned exclusively over fences, with his biggest moment coming when winning the Haldon Gold Cup.
Last time out at Sandown he finished fourth in the Tingle Creek, and he now steps back up in trip for his first run over hurdles in Britain.
Henderson is looking forward to seeing how Janika copes with the different challenge, and said: "Janika's in really good form and has run a couple of smashing races over fences. We thought this race gave him a good opportunity to race over two and a half miles."
The trainer is also represented by William Henry, who has not been sighted since finishing fourth at Aintree in the Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle.
Prior to that performance, William Henry was victorious at the Cheltenham Festival when defeating Wicklow Brave in the Coral Cup.
Henderson added: "William Henry ended last season with two really good runs at Cheltenham and Aintree and he seems in really good form going into this race."
Can Emitom continue to progress for Greatrex?
Like William Henry, Emitom has not been seen since Aintree's Grand National meeting, when finishing runner-up to Champ in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle.
That reverse was his first over hurdles, but he lost little in defeat and now tackles open company for the first time.
Emitom quickly emerged as a star for trainer Warren Greatrex, winning two bumpers before three straight victories over hurdles.
Greatrex is looking forward to getting Emitom back on the track, and said: "He worked nicely at Newbury recently and has schooled since, when he jumped really well, so it's all systems go.
"New Year's Day looks a good starting point. It's his first run out of novice company and he'll have to step up, but his form looks good and we think he's improved."
Will Skelton's patience pay off with Roksana?
On her last trip to Cheltenham in March, Roksana was a surprise winner of the Mares' Hurdle, when benefiting from Benie Des Dieux's last-flight fall.
She nearly followed up at Aintree when narrowly denied by If The Cap Fits, and just failed again at the track when runner-up to Top Notch in November.
Although only fifth in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot last time, jockey Harry Skelton felt Roksana paid the price for being too close to the pace.
Skelton, who will be riding for his brother Dan, said: "I think we ran her too quickly at Ascot and I rode her a lot handier than I've done in the past, which was probably a mistake.
"We'll go back to dropping her in, she's in very good form and we're looking forward to running her."
Could Quel Destin spring a surprise for Nicholls?
Quel Destin is the outsider of the field but has run well at Cheltenham before, notably when fifth in last season's Triumph Hurdle.
Midfield in the Greatwood last time, this race represents a jump in class, and trainer Paul Nicholls said: "He's got a bit to do on the ratings but this looks the right race for him and two and a half miles around Cheltenham should suit him very well."
Completing the field is Summerville Boy, who won the 2018 Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Having started this season over fences with a win at Uttoxeter, last time did not go to plan when Summerville Boy came down in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase and he now reverts to hurdles for Tom George.
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