Sky Bet's "Road To Cheltenham" gets underway on Sunday, November 18, day three of The November Meeting at Cheltenham.
The £32,000 G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle, staged over an extended two miles at 3.30pm, is the first of seven races in the "Road To Cheltenham", which culminates with the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the opening race of The Festival at Cheltenham on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.
Sky Bet's sponsorship deal with Cheltenham Racecourse commenced in the 2013/14 campaign and was recently extended for another five years.
Last season's renewal of the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle was very informative, with Slate House seeing off Summerville Boy by three quarters of a length. Summerville Boy went on take the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle back at Cheltenham in March.
There are 11 entries for this year's contest on Sunday headed by Itchy Feet (Olly Murphy, 11/4 favourite with Sky Bet), who is three from three so far this season, winning a bumper at Stratford on September 8, followed by a Southwell novices' hurdle on October 2 and, on his latest outing, he made a successful transition to Listed class when successful at Kempton Park on October 21.
The four-year-old is one of two entries for Warwickshire-based Murphy along with five-year-old Thomas Darby (3/1), who is already a winner at Cheltenham this season, having taken a maiden hurdle at the course on October 26, when scoring by three and a quarter lengths from Elixir De Nutz (Colin Tiizzard, 7/1).
Olly Murphy revealed: "Itchy Feet came out of Kempton in good form and, with good ground in prospect, we are looking at running at Cheltenham this week.
"He led at Kempton when he won last time, but that wasn't the plan. He had the least experience in the field, but he won well.
"It was a good performance and he is progressing with each run.
"He galloped through the line, he is only four and is still a big, raw baby. He is a good moving horse and wouldn't want the ground to be too soft.
"Thomas Darby is another horse we are considering running at Cheltenham. He is also entered at Wetherby on Saturday.
"He is a big raw horse and did well to win at Cheltenham in October, which was a good performance.
"He doesn't want the ground too soft and is a nice horse with a good engine."
Another entry already on the mark this season is Anytime Will Do (Dan Skelton, 7/2), who landed a maiden hurdle at Uttoxeter and a novices' hurdle at Bangor in October.
Skelton said of the five-year-old: "Anytime Will Do is in good form at home and has come of his win at Bangor nicely.
"He has won nicely on both of his starts this season and jumped very nicely at Uttoxeter on his penultimate start.
"He seems to enjoy good ground and the race at Cheltenham on Sunday could suit."
Other entries to have won last time out include Seddon (Tom George, 3/1), who contested last season's G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper and was an impressive winner on his hurdling debut at Stratford on November 1.
Weather Front (Karen McLintock, 20/1), a smartly-bred five-time Flat winner, won well at Hexham on November 9, while Colonel Custard (Nicky Martin, 6/1) was a comfortable five-length scorer at Newton Abbot last month.
An intriguing contender is Ekayburg (David Pipe, 12/1). The four-year-old won a G2 bumper in France in October, 2017, and has been purchased by Cheveley Park Stud.
Benny's Bridge (Fergal O'Brien, 14/1), Normal Norman (John Ryan, 16/1) and Two For Gold (Kim Bailey, 12/1) complete the entries.
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager Sky Bet, said: "The Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham on Sunday kicks off Sky Bet's 'Road To Cheltenham', which is now its sixth season.
"Last year's race proved highly-informative, with the runner-up Summerville Boy returning to Cheltenham in March to land the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
"The entries for this year's race look very interesting, with Itchy Feet already having scored at Listed level, while Thomas Darby won at Cheltenham last month and Seddon could not have been more impressive when successful at Stratford.
"Eight of the 11 entries won when last seen on a racecourse and a fascinating contest looks guaranteed."
Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle, Sky Bet odds:
11/4 Itchy Feet
3/1 Seddon, Thomas Darby
7/2 Anytime Will Do
6/1 Colonel Custard
7/1 Elixir de Nutz
12/1 Ekayburg, Two For Gold
14/1 Benny's Bridge
16/1 Normal Norman
20/1 Weather Front
Each way terms: 1/5 for first 3 places
Sky Bet "Road To Cheltenham" 2018/19
Cheltenham, Sunday, November 18 - G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle
Ascot, Friday, December 21 - G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle
Punchestown, Sunday, January 13 - G2 Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice
Haydock Park, Saturday, January 19 - G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle
Musselburgh, Sunday, February 3 - G2 Sky Bet Supreme Scottish Trial Novices' Hurdle
Kempton Park, Saturday, February 23 - G2 Sky Bet Dovecote Novices' Hurdle
Cheltenham, Tuesday, March 12 - G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle