Willie Mullins has confirmed that Laurina is Champion Hurdle-bound as the countdown continues to what is becoming the most eagerly anticipated renewal in some years.
The feature contest on day one of the Cheltenham Festival has been won in the last two years by the Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D'air.
His hopes of becoming just the sixth horse to win three Champion Hurdles are set to be challenged by two high-class mares coming from Ireland.
Apple's Jade won the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown this month in superb style, convincing owners Gigginstown House and trainer Gordon Elliott that she belongs in the championship race at Cheltenham as she did.
Now Mullins has confirmed Laurina will also go for the two-mile event on 12th March, following her convincing success in the Listed Quevega Mares' Hurdle at Punchestown on Wednesday.
"That's job done, and hopefully we'll get a clear run from now to Cheltenham. The Champion Hurdle is where we are aiming. That's the owner's plan and our plan. Things can change, and she is in other races," said Ireland's champion trainer.
Laurina is 7/2 to win the Champion Hurdle, with Buveur D'air 9/4 to retain his crown and Apple's Jade 9/4 to give Elliott his first win in the race.
Laurina readily picked off stablemate Stormy Ireland to score at Punchestown and, while the race was over 2m4f, and both Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh admits she'll have to be much sharper in the Cotswolds, the latter suggests she is worthy of her place in the line-up.
The most successful rider in Cheltenham Festival history, Walsh has partnered Hurricane Fly (2011, 2013), Faugheen (2015), Annie Power (2016) in his four Champion Hurdle win - all for Mullins.
"I'm not worried about going down in trip - I can't think of too many doubtful stayers that won champion hurdles," said Walsh.
"I don't know if she can win it - it will be a huge step up again, but she's earned a crack at it. Apple's Jade and Buveur D'air are two very good horses."
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