Hurricane Fly will face a maximum of nine rivals when he aims to regain his crown in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.
The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old landed the two-mile championship in 2011 and although he was beaten into third when odds-on 12 months ago, he has looked better than ever so far this season.
The three main hopes for the home team are last year's winner Rock On Ruby, now trained by Harry Fry, Paul Nicholls' improving Zarkandar and the Nicky Henderson-trained Grandouet.
Henderson could also run 2010 champion Binocular, as well as the runner-up of that year, Khyber Kim.
Last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Cinders And Ashes and Triumph Hurdle hero Countrywide Flame add further strength in depth.
The field is completed by Balder Succes and Cotton Mill, although the latter looks more likely to stick to handicap company in the County Hurdle.