Nicky Henderson's Buzz 5.39/2 is the favourite to win the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday after 17 runners made Thursday's final declaration.
Staged over two miles, the £100,000 contest is the most valuable handicap hurdle run anywhere in Britain so far this season. Henderson is the most successful trainer in the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle's history and will be aiming for a fifth victory on Saturday.
Six-year-old Buzz began the season by finishing third to Sceau Royal in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las and followed up with an impressive seven-length success in a two-mile handicap hurdle at Ascot on November 20.
Benson 9.28/1 is his nearest rival in the betting and with good reason. The five-year-old, who's trained by Dr Richard Newland, is on a four-timer, having followed up success in two novices' hurdles at Hereford with victory in the Listed Betfair Exchange December Handicap Hurdle at Sandown Park a couple of weeks ago.
Newland said today: "Benson is absolutely fine and came out of Sandown well. There is no reason not to go for Saturday's race. Obviously, this race is another big step up and we will be up against top company. He has gone up 10lb since Sandown and we are realistic about that.
"However, Benson looks progressive and should handle the ground. He deserves to take his chance. It might be a step too far, but we might as well take a chance and find out."
The 11-times champion trainer and Betfair ambassador Paul Nicholls (above) has yet to land the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle but his runner in the race, Malaya 11.010/1, received support in the ante-post betting.
The six-year-old mare enjoyed her finest hour when successful in the G3 Imperial Cup at Sandown Park in 2019 and has run well on her last two appearances at Ascot, most recently chasing home the re-opposing Kid Commando (Anthony Honeyball/Richie McLernon) in a Listed handicap hurdle on October 31.
Not So Sleepy 22.021/1 will be attempting to become the first horse to win the Betfair Exchange Trophy two years in a row.
Also prominent in the market are Oakley 13.012/1 (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson), an encouraging third on his return to action at Wetherby last month, and Lightly Squeeze 12.5, who fell at the last when holding the advantage in the G3 Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February.
Alan King (pictured above), successful with Raya Star in 2011, has two interesting contenders in Isolate 21.020/1, a lightly-raced novice who has won both his latest two starts, and Harambe 17.5, winner of the G3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2019.
Belfast Banter 19.5 will try to become the first winner of the Betfair Exchange Trophy. The five-year-old was kept busy over the summer and ran consistently well, bagging a maiden hurdle at Galway and finishing second on another four occasions.
Betfair Spokesman, Barry Orr, commented today: "Nicky Henderson has a great record in this race and his progressive six-year-old, Buzz, has been favourite throughout the ante-post betting and continues to head the market at 100/30.
"We have seen some support for the Paul Nicholls-trained and Harry Cobden-ridden, Malaya. She is now 8/1 from 10/1 in early skirmishes and I expect her to get shorter."