Who will be The Herald Grade One champ for 2013?
OUR €50k race is set to be an exciting ride – as owner JP McManus looks set to score a hat-trick... but he's going to be up against some stiff competition.
With the likes of Moscow Flyer, Brave Inca, Hurricane Fly and dual Cheltenham winner Alderwood glittering the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle roll of honour, this race has become renowned as one of the leading Grade One novice events.
Judging by this year's 26 entries for the two-mile contest, which takes place on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival, this could be one of the most memorable renewals as the first three home from the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham all hold the engagement.
Leading the way is Willie Mullins' dual Cheltenham victor Champagne Fever, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner who also won at last year's Punchestown Festival when he claimed the Grade One Champion Bumper.
The Herald Novice Hurdle carries a prize of almost €50,000 and is the first of 11 Grade One races over five days.
The Nicky Henderson-trained Aintree winner and Supreme Novices' Hurdle runner-up My Tent Or Yours is one of five British entries in the race, along with his stable companion Forgotten Voice, Donald McCain's Clondaw Kaempfer, Court Minstrel, trained in Wales by Evan Williams and Zuider Zee, trained by John Ferguson.
Owner JP McManus has won the last two runnings of the race with Shot From The Hip and Alderwood and his search for a hat-trick relies on Waahe, My Tent Or Yours and Jezki.
Willie Mullins, who won the race in 2010 and 2011 with Hurricane Fly and Blackstairmountain, has seven entries of the 26, the unbeaten mare Annie Power being the most significant, aside from Champagne Fever. Trainer Tony Martin had a memorable Cheltenham Festival and leading his team for Punchestown is his County Hurdle winner Ted Veale who is set to step up in class for the Herald Novice Hurdle.
Indeed, Ted Veale is looking to emulate last year's winner Alderwood by winning the Herald Novice Hurdle after winning Cheltenham's County Hurdle.
Martin says: "I have been very happy with Ted since Cheltenham and we could have gone to Liverpool, but we wanted to give him a bit more time.
"The intention at the moment is for him to run in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle over two miles. I think the way he won the County Hurdle certainly warrants him taking his chance in a Grade One."
Champagne Fever is the almost certain favourite for the race and his Cheltenham win and position at the head of this market seemed an unbelievable feat after he was beaten 40-lengths at Naas back in January.
However, that issue was quickly resolved and a win in the Herald Novice Hurdle would be a third consecutive Grade One victory this season and a perfect way to end his hurdling career before embarking on a campaign over fences.
The Herald Novice Hurdle looks likely to set the standard for a week of top quality racing at Ireland's premier racecourse.