The £155,000 Betfair Hurdle has attracted 59 entries – up from 54 last year – for the 2018 renewal.
Run at Newbury Racecourse on Betfair Super Saturday, February 10, the Grade Three contest staged over two miles and 69 yards is the richest handicap hurdle in the British jump calendar.
Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson (pictured) boasts a record number of wins in the race with five successes, most recently when saddling My Tent Or Yours to victory in 2013.
There are nine entries from his Seven Barrows yard in 2018, more than any other trainer, including Betfair’s 10/1 joint-favourite Kayf Grace.
A G2 bumper winner at Aintree in 2016, the eight-year-old mare won her only start last season, but looked as good as ever when scoring at Kempton Park over Christmas.
Henderson’s entries also include recent Sandown scorer Call Me Lord (14/1), last season’s G1 Triumph Hurdle sixth Charli Parcs (16/1) and Verdana Blue (16/1), who was third in a G3 handicap hurdle at Ascot last month.
Diese Des Bieffes (12/1) looks a very useful novice, with easy victories at Taunton and Fontwell this season.
Other possible starters for the champion jump trainer include William Henry (20/1), a talented novice last season, Charming Zen (20/1), Lough Derg Spirit (20/1) and Jenkins (33/1).
The other 10/1 joint-favourite with Betfair is Lalor (Richard Woollacott), a G2 bumper winner at Aintree in April, who has been placed in some decent novices’ hurdles so far this season.
Somerset-based handler Philip Hobbs has two entries – last season’s G1 Triumph Hurdle victor Defi Du Seuil (14/1) and the mare Poppy Kay (16/1), who landed a Listed contest at Sandown Park on January 6.
A real Newbury specialist is High Bridge (Ben Pauling, 14/1), who has won three times from as many starts at the Berkshire course.
The seven-year-old was last seen out when winning the Listed Ladbrokes Intermediate Handicap Hurdle over the course and distance on December 2, having won two novices’ hurdles at Newbury last season.
Pauling said: “The Betfair Hurdle is very much the aim for High Bridge.
“He has been very good since his win at Newbury last time out and the Betfair Hurdle has been the target since then. We purposely avoided Ascot (December 23) as we wanted to prepare him for Newbury.
“He is unbeaten at Newbury and really seems to like it there. It wasn’t our intention to make the running last time and he will be much better with a lead.”
There are 11 Irish-trained contenders this year, with seven entries from Willie Mullins and four from Gordon Elliott.
Among the Mullins-trained septet is G1 winner Bleu Et Rouge (14/1) and Lagostovegas (20/1), who was third on the Flat in the Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket in the autumn.
Betfair spokesman Barry Orr said: “Nicky Henderson will be bidding for a sixth win in the race and one of his charges, Diese des Bieffes, has been attracting support at 12/1.”