WHEN it comes to Champion Hurdles, Nicky Henderson knows how to train a winner or two – or even seven.

In the last 34 runnings of the race, Henderson has triumphed a magnificent seven times – most recently with Buveir d’Air in 2018.

A two-times winner of the race, Buveir d’Air will miss out this year owing to injury. In November, the JP McManus owned nine-year-old suffered a cut to his leg at Newcastle during the closing stages of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle – he has been treated for the injury in nearby Newbury since.

Even in the gelding’s absence, Henderson can still remarkably boast the top two horses in the current ante-post market. That’s Epatante (10/3) and Pentland Hills (5/1).

Other entries include Fusil Raffles, Call Me Lord and Verdana Blue – Verdana Blue’s participation in the race depends entirely on the ground drying out, though.

Star mare Epatante flopped at last year’s festival – finishing ninth of 22 in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle despite going off 15/8 favourite.

Henderson insists his Champion Hurdle hope has no issue with the undulating Prestbury Park course, though, and instead pointed towards a precautionary vaccine against the untimely equine influenza outbreak as the reason behind her disappointing run.

He said: "Last year there were four or five that didn't turn up to Cheltenham like they should have done, and I would have said with all of them it was probably flu vaccinations. I would think she (Epatante) fell into the same square.

"I've read in some places she can only go on a flat track, just because she didn't run very well at Cheltenham on the only time that she has been there - I don't think that was the track.”

Second favourite Pentland Hills meanwhile has had his palate cauterised since January’s nose defeat to Ballyandy at Haydock in the Champion Hurdle Trial Hurdle.

Henderson is no stranger to giving his star horses a wind operation - Altior, Buveir D’Air, Sprinter Sacre and O O Seven have all returned triumphantly since surgery to improve breathing ability.

He added: "It (the operation) will almost certainly make no difference whatsoever, but it is an effort to make sure everything is in place.

"He wants to switch off a little bit more and I think we will drop him in a bit more than we have done. The trouble is he is such a good jumper he is taking you there all the time.”

Call Me Lord will run more because of hope rather than expectation it would seem as Henderson pointed to the outsider’s strong Cheltenham form.

The seven-year-old won the International Hurdle in December, but was disappointing in a listed hurdle defeat at Sandown earlier this month.

Honeysuckle, currently third favourite at 8/1, will look to grant Henry De Bromhead his first ever Champion Hurdle win while Irish trio Envoi Allen, Sharjah and Supersundae are all priced 14/1.

It’s 16/1 bar.