Barry Geraghty is remaining loyal to Epatante in her defence of her Champion Hurdle crown despite the mare being usurped as favourite for the race by the unbeaten Honeysuckle. 

Geraghty, who booted home 43 winners at the Festival during his illustrious career and finished the leading rider at the meeting in 2003 and 2012, ran through his best bets for the feature contests over the four days on RTÉ's Saturday Sport. 

The Meath man was in the plate a year ago at his final Festival before his retirement when Nicky Henderson's charge justified favouritism in hurdling's blue riband event. 

Epatante may have suffered a shock defeat at prohibitive odds at Kempton at Christmas, but Geraghty is expecting her to bounce back to top form in the feature race on day one in the Cotswolds. 

"I think Epatante is the one to beat," he said. 

"She won the Champion Hurdle last year on soft ground when we were afraid it was going to be too soft, but she got away with it.

"Ideally she wants good ground or good to soft, and it looks like it's going to be good to soft, which is very much in her favour, whereas Honeysuckle, when she won at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival, that was on soft to heavy ground and that was her best performance.

"I just feel she is very much at home on that ground, it slows the race down.

"I think she is vulnerable to something with pace on better ground, although she's a very, very good mare, I think she's beatable on better ground.

"I think Sharjah could be the value each-way at 16-1."

Geraghty expressed similar reservations about Appreciate It – Willie Mullins' hot favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle which gets proceedings under way on Tuesday afternoon.

"I think Appreciate It is short enough," he said. 

"He is the best horse in the race, but a little bit like Honeysuckle, he's been performing on softer ground.

"I think he'd enjoy more of a test of stamina.

"I wouldn't be surprise to see Ballyadam reverse placings on the better ground."

"He could be value each-way."

The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle kicks off Wednesday's action, with Geraghty keen on the chances of the rapid improver Gaillard Du Mesnil.

"Henry de Bromhead has a great chance with Bob Olinger, who is favourite, but I fancy Gaillard Du Mesnil, a Willie Mullins-trained horse. 

"He won at the Dublin Racing Festival on soft to heavy ground and I think he just struggled a little bit on the ground late on, but I think better ground is going to suit him, and he could be the one to beat."

The imperious Chacun Pour Soi is difficult to oppose in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Geraghty admitting: "I think he's going to be very hard to beat

"The possible value could be Cilaos Emery, another Willie Mullins-trained horse at about 20-1.

"Altior is next best to Chacun Chacun Pour Soi, but unless he doesn't run to form I don't see him getting beaten."

The Stayers' Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase share top billing on Thursday, with Geraghty keen on the chances of Paisley Park in the former and Fakir Doudairies in the Ryanair.

"Paisley Park should be the one to beat. He has the strongest form. 

"Sire Du Berlais, who I won on at Cheltenham last year, is here. 

"It was a handicap he won last year, so he is stepping up in grade. 

"He has a chance but I think Paisley Park probably isn't bad value at 15-8. 

"Fakir Doudairies, I think has a good chance for Joseph O'Brien in the Ryanair Chase."

Envoi Allen will occupy the mantle of the Irish banker of the meeting for many punters.

Owners Cheveley Park opted to transfer the favourite for the Marsh Novices' Chase to Henry de Bromhead after the controversy caused by Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse came to light, but Geraghty is unconcerned by his unorthodox preparation for the Festival. 

"I had the pleasure of having a sit on him in the autumn, and he's a lovely, relaxed horse," the 41-year-old revealed. "That's going to help. 

"Henry de Bromhead also used the same feed company as Gordon Elliott, so his feed won't change.

"He's so good and so far ahead of the opposition that he could run 20% below his best and still beat them, I think."

Geraghty conjured up an unlikely victory on Champ in last season's RSA Chase and can see Nicky Henderson's quirky performer running a big race in Friday's Gold Cup, even if he believes stablemate Santini represents a better betting prospect. 

"He seems on really good terms with himself," Geraghty said of Champ. 

"Nicky's done a lot of work on his jumping with Henrietta Knight. 

"For me, he's the biggest danger to Al Boum Photo, but Al Boum Photo sets the standard. He's twice a winner of the Gold Cup – he won two years ago off a fast pace, he won last year off a slower pace. He's a very,very good horse. 

"I think Champ is the biggest danger, A Plus Tard would have to have a chance as well, but I thought Santini could be worth a few quid each-way at 12-1.

"He was second in the race last year and would have preferred a better gallop."

Geraghty also believes that the Willie Mullins-trained Elimay is worthy of support in the Mares' Chase later on the card, despite being no bigger than 13-8 in the betting.