Unibet Elite Hurdle (Grade 2) | 1m7½f | 4yo+ | ITV4/RUK
Plenty of classy operators have landed this Grade 2 prize en route to further Graded success, sometimes even at the top level in the cases of Zarkandar (2012) and Irving (2015).
It normally takes a speedy, efficient jumper to come home in front – or just a runner trained by Paul Nicholls, as he's entered the winner's enclosure after this contest in four out of the last eight years.
Horses at the top of the weights – carrying the burden of 11st 10lb – have won six of the last eight runnings of the race and Charbel, last seen finishing third of five in the Grade 1 novice chase at Aintree's Grand National meeting, will bid to enhance that statistic.
Reverting to hurdles after four chasing starts, the Kim Bailey-trained six-year-old will try to get his career back on track after a frustrating time of it last season.
Winning on his chase debut, he went down fighting behind Altior in a Sandown Grade 1 before looking like he might have beaten his old adversary when falling two out in the Racing Post Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival.
He disappointed on his final outing of the season and Bailey, who has his team in fine fettle, said of his stable star: "I'm very happy with him and he's in good form.
"This is the best way to start off his season and we'll see whether we go chasing or hurdling with him after this."
Lough Derg Spirit bids to give trainer Nicky Henderson a first winner in this Unibet-backed race since Chomba Womba comfortably landed the spoils in 2008.
Set to be partnered by Nico de Boinville, for whom Lough Derg Spirit is his only ride on the card, the unexposed five-year-old has been the subject of ante-post support for the race but disappointed when last seen, pulling up in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree.
However, Henderson thinks a lot of him and said: "He’s in good form and there’s a good hurdle race to be won with him – whether it’s this one we’ll have to see.
"He likes these sort of tracks, having won at Kempton and Musselburgh, so hopefully he'll run well."
When you think of the Elite Hurdle, you can't help but picture 2013 winner Melodic Rendezvous, who will be competing in the race for the fourth time.
Despite being the old boy of the party at 11, trainer Jeremy Scott believes he's "as good as we've had him leading up to the race".
He added: "The horse is extremely well and we're due a lot of rain, which will hopefully slow them all down a bit for us. He's in very good form and we hope he has a nice run."
Nicholls runs Zubayr in a bid to win the race again, while London Prize is interesting receiving weight from all six rivals after finishing an excellent second in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket last month.