Team Baracouda are in an expectant mood as the brilliant gelding prepares to try to regain his stayers' crown at Cheltenham today.
The advent of a four-day Festival means the longdistance hurdlers take centre stage in their own right for the first time in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, with the French ten-year-old once again looking the one to beat.
He was victorious in 2002 and 2003, and was narrowly denied a hat-trick by Iris's Gift 12 months ago.
"He's in super form and very well," said trainer FranAois Doumen.
"I think he's stronger than ever this year. He's won around the track and Tony (McCoy) gets on very well with him.
"The yard seems to be in good form and that could be a good sign for my horse because he is as just as well as the others. I have got no shadow of a doubt about his preparation, so I count myself very lucky."
Champion jockey McCoy has taken over on Baracouda this season following the retirement of Doumen's son, Thierry.
"Rule Supreme looks to be the biggest rival, but Baracouda is in good form and all the others will have to improve to beat him," McCoy said.
"On form he's the best in the race, and we know he will handle the track."
Trainer Howard Johnson, jockey Graham Lee and millionaire owner Graham Wylie already have two winners - Arcalis and No Refuge - to their name this week and hopes are high for Inglis Drever on his first try at the trip.
Wylie said: "We will have to see how he gets on. It looks a very tough race with the likes of Baracouda, Rule Supreme and Crystal D'Ainay, as they are all very good horses.
"He will have to be at his best, but hopefully he can run well. I definitely think he's better over the longer trip."
Willie Mullins is hoping his decision to run the versatile Rule Supreme in the race rather than the totesport Gold Cup tomorrow will pay dividends.
The prospect of drying ground, together with a relatively large field in the Gold Cup, has swayed the County Carlow handler to swerve the big one.
"When Best Mate dropped out of the Gold Cup a lot of other people came in," Mullins said. "There's maybe going to be 15-plus runners. We would prefer a race with about eight or ten runners, and once it looked like there were going to be more than 12, we said we'd drop out.
"He's not the world's best jumper and he would need a lot more room and daylight to jump."
Robert Thornton is out to bite the hand that has fed him when he partners Crystal D'Ainay. The rider was aboard Kelami for Doumen in the William Hill Trophy on Tuesday.
Baracouda and Crystal D'Ainay are old rivals, but the latter has yet to come out on top in three meetings, although he did come very close at Windsor in December.