Ante-post favourite Darlan will face 18 rivals in Tuesday’s William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Nicky Henderson’s starlet fell on his most recent start at Newbury but along with jockey Tony McCoy has recovered well enough to take his place in the traditional curtain raiser.
Henderson has won the race twice before, in 1986 and 1992, and has a remarkable 39 Festival winners to his name.
“How Darlan took that fall I’ve no idea as he schooled well after Newbury,” said Henderson.
“I do think Darlan has that touch of class. Tetlami, our other runner in the Supreme, you’d call a good horse but Darlan might be a touch better.”
Darlan will be ridden by Tony McCoy, who admits he would not change mounts for anything else in the race.
“Darlan was going very well but it was a long way out at Newbury. Who knows what would have happened, but I wouldn’t swap him,” said the champion jockey.
“Steps To Freedom is a fair horse and apparently he’s flying but I hope Darlan has got a very good chance.”
Also taking part in the two mile contest will be Vulcanite and Hazy Tom, trained by former Henderson assistant Charlie Longsdon, whilst Paul Nicholls will saddle the Graham Wylie-owned Prospect Wells who will be ridden by Ruby Walsh.
Nicholls won the race last year with Al Ferof and will be hoping to record his third Supreme Novices’ success as a trainer.
Philip Hobbs runs Colour Squadron, Alan King Montbazon and Donald McCain will rely on Cinders And Ashes as well as Agent Archie, with stable jockey Jason Maguire riding the former.
A strong Irish challenge will be led by Jessica Harrington’s Steps To Freedom, and includes Willie Mullins’ trio of Midnight Game, Allure Of Illusion and Simenon as well as Distant Memories, Trifolium and Galileo’s Choice.
Steps To Freedom’s trainer Jessica Harrington reports everything has gone to plan since he beat Prospect Wells on this course in November.
“He is in flying form I could not be happier, he has done everything I have asked of him on the run up to this week,” she told her website, www.jessicaharringtonracing.com.
“People question why I haven’t run him since November but that was always the plan.
“I am really looking forward to him hopefully showing his true colours and to get the Irish off to a winner in the first.”
Jockey Robbie Power is looking forward to a decent show from Steps To Freedom.
“The plan’s gone perfectly well with him, and he won over course and distance around there in November, which at Cheltenham is a major help,” he said.
“We know he handles the track and he has been going well at home.
“For every race at Cheltenham you need a little bit of good luck, he’s a tough horse off the Flat and had plenty of hustle and bustle in the bumper at Aintree last year.”
The field will be completed by David Pipe’s Catch Tammy, Noel Meade’s Dylan Ross and Tim Vaughan’s Jimbill.