The handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival look like being as competitive as ever after a total of 844 entries, including 272 from Ireland, were made for the 10 events next month.
The first handicap of the meeting, the Ultima Handicap Chase on March 13, has last year’s runner-up, the Tom George-trained Singlefarmpayment, among the 83 entered.
David Pipe captured the last two renewals with Un Temps Pour Tout and has four contenders to choose from including promising novice Ramses De Teille.
Donald McCain’s Testify, who is unbeaten in three starts this term, tops a list of 78 for the Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, also on the opening day.
Nicky Henderson has two contenders in Rather Be and Divine Spear while Peregine Run, Barney Dwan and Ruth Jefferson’s Mount Mews are others that catch the eye.
Among 119 entries for the Coral Cup on March 14 is the 2016 winner Diamond King from Gordon Elliott’s powerful stable.
Other high-profile names include Listed Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle scorer William Henry (Nicky Henderson), Betfair Hurdle runner-up Bleu Et Rouge (Willie Mullins) and recent Sandown Park winner Topofthegame (Paul Nicholls).
Elliott’s Mitchouka is among 42 entries for the Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on the same card.
Irish handler Patrick Kelly and owner Philip Reynolds have teamed up to win the last two renewals of the Pertemps Final Network Handicap Hurdle with Mall Dini and Presenting Percy. They are chasing the three-timer with the lightly-raced novice Eagle Lion, one of 52 entries for the race on March 15.
Alan Fleming’s Tully East, a winner at the Festival last March, is among 94 entries for the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase on the same day.
Grand National contender Abolitionist, trained by Dr Richard Newland, could warm up for Aintree in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase for which there were 77 entries. Pendra (Charlie Longsdon) and Mall Dini, who were second and fifth last year, could renew rivalry.
Mick Jazz, winner of the Ryanair Hurdle for the Elliott team, is among 88 in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle on March 16.
Mullins, who has won taken four of the last eight renewals, has put in 16, including Bleu Et Rouge, Max Dynamite and Sandsend.
Flawless Escape is one of 19 contenders, from a total of 146 entries, for Elliott in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. Elliott took the spoils last year with Champagne Classic.
Mullins has won the race three times in the last seven years and his 19-strong team features Duc Des Genievres and Carter McKay.
The final race of the meeting, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase has attracted 65 entries. They include last year’s winner, Rock The World from Jessica Harrington’s stable.
The weights will be revealed next Wednesday.