Obviously, there are no trends for only the second running of this race which has been reduced in distance by half a furlong this year.
Whiteoak, who got the better of Refinement in the dying strides of the inaugural running, would have a big chance if lining up again but it's looking increasingly likely that she'll run in the Champion Hurdle in which she'd have a cracking each way chance - 33/1 with Victor Chandler NRNB.
In her absence, the one to be on in this race is the Willie Mullins-trained QUEVEGA, who looks a steal at the current 3/1 with Blue Square - 2/1 in places and likely to be a bit shorter on the day. This progressive mare's best piece of form was in an Auteuil Group 1 hurdle back in June when third only two lengths adrift of stablemate Hurricane Fly, who would have been one of the banker's of the meeting but for a splint problem ruling him out.
Off the track since, she looked really good when winning her recent prep race at Punchestown, outpacing her rivals in a sprint finish while really pinging her hurdles, and there are some confident noises coming out of her stable. The only slight concern with her is the ground as the majority of her form has been on soft and heavy, but conditions should be OK for her on the opening day of the festival and she should have too much class for her rivals.
The betting suggests that United (4/1 Stan James) is her biggest rival and I wouldn't argue with that. Lucy Wadham's mare has bounced back this season after a long period on the sidelines to win a hot handicap over 2m 4f at Haydock (the placed horses Chief Yeoman and Tazbar have boosted the form since) and a Grade 2 for mares over 3m at Ascot, so she'll stay this 2m5f trip. If anything, though, she'll find it a bit on the short side and by the time she gets going the selection may well be home and hosed.
Chomba Womba (6/1 Paddy Power) looks best of the rest but she was a beaten favourite in this race last year and I don't think Cheltenham is her track.
Quevega 3pts @ 3/1 Blue Square