Cheltenham: Big Buck's facing a Grand test in bid for World Hurdle hat-trick
Big Buck's has dominated the Ladbrokes World Hurdle for the last two years but Grands Crus can spoil his bid for a record-equalling third success in the stayers' showpiece.
Only Inglis Drever has notched up a hat-trick in the three-mile heat and many view Big Buck's as a banker bet this week in a division that lacks many other established stars.
However, David Pipe looks to have uncovered a really nice horse in Grands Crus and he is the only one who can realistically trouble the reigning champion.
The six-year-old will have to find at least 5lb to equal Big Buck's but he has been improving at a rate of knots this term and is still on the upgrade.
Wide-margin wins at Cheltenham and Haydock last year made handicaps a closed route for the French-bred grey, and he made light work of a switch to Pattern company with a 10-length romp in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Admittedly that was not the strongest race, but he could do little more than win, picking it up two out before easing clear without coming out of second gear.
Grands Crus will obviously have to turn in the performance of his life if he is to arrest the 10-race winning run of Big Buck's, but who knows what will happen if Pipe's runner really serves it up.
The Ryanair Chase has been the aim for Poquelin since he took the Vote AP Gold Cup in December and the long-term planning can pay off.
Paul Nicholls' eight-year-old won the same race back in 2009 and headed for this heat at last year's Festival only to find his challenge derailed by Albertas Run.
He was hardly disgraced in finishing second that day and Nicholls again opted to put him away following his handicap success last time.
Poquelin will be primed to perfection for this race again and he looks a much better horse this year, an assertion which is backed up by a 9lb higher official rating than last year.
Noble Prince should go well in the Jewson Novices' Chase after two excellent recent efforts in Grade One company.
This Grade Two race represents a slight drop in class but a notable step up in trip for Paul Nolan's runner after his short-head second behind Realt Dubh in the Irish Arkle.
The Byrne Group Plate presents its usual tricky question but Aigle D'Or could be the solution for Nicky Henderson.
Highly-rated over hurdles, his novice campaign failed to really take off last term, however he opened his account with a stylish success at Newbury in November.
That win should have his confidence riding high and while he is rated 7lb higher than last year, Aigle D'Or merits respect for his shrewd connections.
The Pertemps Final is another perplexing handicap poser with a handful of horses holding claims.
Preference is for Willie Mullins' Sivota after he made a solid return when fourth in his qualifier at Leopardstown in January.
Nigel Twiston-Davies will be keen to give his son Willie a success in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup and the pair look to form a potent force with Billie Magern.
Second in Grade Two company last time, the seven-year-old will relish the better ground and will certainly want for nothing in the saddle.