Last year’s heroine, Epatante, and two-time winner Air Drinker are among 27 entries for the Unibet Champion Hurdle in Cheltenham.
Buveur D’Air won the two-mile hurdles crown in 2017 and 2018 for coach Nicky Henderson and owner JP McManus, before dropping to the third steal in the treble auction two years ago.
He was unable to participate in last year’s renewal due to injury, but Henderson and McManus found a super-under at Epatante, which provided the Seven Barrows manager with a record-breaking eighth victory in the race and to McManus his ninth.
Stunning remains the clear favorite of this year’s Champion Hurdle, despite a shock loss to the admirable gray Silver Streak while defending his crown in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Drinker D’Air has not been seen competing since suffering a hoof injury at the 2019 Fighting Fifth in Newcastle, but he is said to be closing in on a comeback.
Henderson is responsible for six entries in all – with his team also including Buzz, Call Me Lord, Marie’s Rock and Verdana Blue.
Willie Mullins has five contenders, led by last year’s runner-up Sharjah, who recently won her third Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Saint Roi, Saldier, Concertiste and the new French recruit James Du Berlais complete the Closutton quintet.
Tom Symonds is still undecided on whether to lead his stable star Song For Someone in the Champion Hurdle or wait for the big national meeting in Aintree.
The six-year-old has won his last three starts at sophomore level – completing his hat-trick with a narrow victory over the aforementioned silver streak in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
Symonds said: “Song For Someone is in great shape, and the plan would be to race in the Champion Hurdle in Cheltenham or in the Aintree Hurdle. We put him in the Champion Hurdle and we’ll make a decision sooner.
“I am absolutely delighted with him at home. He is doing very well and seems to have come out of the International in great shape.
“There are three races we’re reviewing right now, with one of them serving as his preparation for one of the big spring festivals. He could make it to Haydock for The New One Unibet Hurdle one week Saturday, the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown Park or the Kingwell in Wincanton.
“I think the weather is going to play a big part in the race he actually competes in, and I’m not really looking into any of them at the moment.
“The Champion Hurdle is firmly in the picture, and it would be great to have a rider in a championship race like this.”
Henry de Bromhead has entered undefeated mare Honeysuckle, Aspire Tower and Jason The Militant – while other prospects include Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras and Gary Moore-trained Goshen.