The Cheltenham Festival gets underway on Tuesday afternoon when the Unibet Champion Hurdle is the highlight of what could be a star-studded card.

Four Grade 1 contests often make the opening day at Prestbury Park one to remember and 2018 looks no different, with the exciting Getabird and Footpad on track even before the hurdling championship is decided.

Buveur D’Air is back to defend his crown, and a short-priced favourite to do so, but there is plenty of opposition to take on the odds-on favourite and we’ll take a look at each one of the 13 runners in this preview.

1 BUVEUR D’AIR – Form: 11111-111
Jockey: Barry Geraghty. Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Progressed all of last season after a brief novice chasing campaign was brought to an end, culminating in impressive Champion and Aintree Hurdle victories. Hasn’t needed to be at his best to take his unbeaten run to nine this season and is now cramped odds to make it 10 which, in all honesty, he should comfortably be up to.Rating: 10/10

2 CH’TIBELLO – Form: 35132-422
Jockey: Harry Skelton. Trainer: Dan Skelton

Has run well enough in Grade 2 company this season, but is not a frequent winner and there would be no obvious reason for him overturning defeats by My Tent Or Yours and most recently Elgin. Rating: 3/10

3 CHARLI PARCS – Form: 11F6-200
Jockey: Noel Fehily. Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Looks a likely pacemaker for Buveur D’Air in this contest, which comes 12 months after he was strongly fancied for the Triumph Hurdle. He’s not gone on much since what was an exciting first start in the United Kingdom. Rating: 1/10

4 ELGIN – Form: 211227-41161
Jockey: Wayne Hutchinson. Trainer: Alan King

Finished well behind Melon in last year’s Supreme but has progressed since, winning a couple of valuable handicaps and then beating Ch’Tibello in the Kingwell at Wincanton in decent style. Was supplemented for this race as a result and will need a career-best to get that £20,000 fee back for the Elite Racing Club. Rating: 5/10

5 FAUGHEEN – Form: 1211/1P2
Jockey: Ruby Walsh. Trainer: Willie Mullins

The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner has endured his share of injury trouble since, albeit running well in six of his seven races in the three years since he topped the hurdling rankings. But, after being pulled up at Leopardstown just after Christmas, it was somewhat disappointing to see him beaten by Stayers’ Hurdle contender at the same venue last month, and he needs to bounce back to his best to figure. Rating: 6/10

6 IDENTITY THIEF – Form: 211PU460-62
Jockey: Sean Flanagan. Trainer: Henry De Bromhead

Sixth in this race a couple of years ago and has since mixed in some decent novice chase efforts, but form since returning to hurdles at the end of last season has been poor and he is readily passed over. Rating: 1/10

7 JOHN CONSTABLE – Form: 47600F-1162
Jockey: Leighton Aspell. Trainer: Evan Williams

Definitely improving, finishing second behind a heavily-eased Buveur D’Air last time out and also running okay behind My Tent Or Yours before Christmas, but this outsider would prefer much better ground, which he simply will not get here. Rating: 4/10

8 MELON – Form: 122-135
Jockey: Paul Townend. Trainer: Ruby Walsh

Much-hyped favourite when second in the Supreme 12 months ago, but has only won one race since and was not particularly impressive in that Down Royal victory. Since beaten by My Tent Or Yours and Faugheen and would have to find a good bit to challenge Buveur D’Air. Place prospects only. Rating: 5/10

9 MICK JAZZ – Form: 1231-3513
Jockey: Davy Russell. Trainer: Gordon Elliott

First trip over to the Cheltenham Festival for this consistent type, who was a shock 14/1 Grade 1 winner at Leopardstown just after Christmas (in the race where favourite Faugheen was pulled up). But he was readily turned aside last time out and also has form to turn around with Melon. Rating: 4/10

10 MY TENT OR YOURS – Form: 3324222-1
Jockey: Aidan Coleman. Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Admirable 11-year-old who has never finished out of the first four in his entire National Hunt career, picking up prize money for second in this race in 2014, 2016 and again last year. He beat a few of these in the International Hurdle before Christmas and has been kept fresh in a bid to reach the money yet again – there is nothing to suggest he is not up to it. Rating: 8/10

11 WICKLOW BRAVE – Form: 033/71-
Jockey: Patrick Mullins. Trainer: Willie Mullins

Dual purpose horse who has won a County Hurdle at the Festival and is a Group 1 winner on the flat as well. His most recent hurdling effort was a Grade 1 Punchestown success but he was only seventh in the Champion Hurdle last year and might not want such testing conditions. Rating: 5/10

12 YORKHILL – Form: 41112-86
Jockey: David Mullins. Trainer: Willie Mullins

Looking to complete a Cheltenham Festival treble after winning the Neptune Hurdle in 2016 and the JLT Chase last year, which appeared to mark him out as a future Gold Cup contender. But this season has proved a wild disappointment with two wide-margin defeats, so this clearly-talented type comes back hurdling on a recovery mission with plenty to prove. Rating: 6/10

13 VERDANA BLUE – Form: 0214U1143-5130
Jockey: Nico de Boinville. Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Mare with bits and pieces of handicap form, plus a decent fourth in the mares’ novice hurdle last year, but this looks like tilting at windmills. Rating: 1/10

VERDICT:

It really is very hard to find any holes in BUVEUR D’AIR, who hasn’t been beaten since the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. With a chasing career put on hold last season, he went back over hurdles and took championship honours in some style. He should really repeat his victory from 12 months ago and it would be no surprise if MY TENT OR YOURS chased him home. The reliable 11-year-old looks a decent each-way play and in any markets betting without the favourite. Yorkhill clearly has some talent and if his mind is completely on the game, he could fill out the frame on his return to hurdling.

1 BUVEUR D’AIR
2 MY TENT OR YOURS
3 YORKHILL

(c) Sky News 2018: Preview of Tuesday’s Cheltenham Festival highlight – the Unibet Champion Hurdle

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