Irish trio among Hennessy 19
First Lieutenant is one of the Irish trained trio
(Healy Racing Photos)
The enigmatic 11-year-old signed off last season with victory in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown and picked up where he left off by winning the John Smith's Hurdle at Wetherby on his return to action.
Ruby Walsh's mount aims to give champion trainer Paul Nicholls a fourth Hennessy triumph following the victories of Strong Flow (2003) and the great Denman (2007 and 2009).
Nicholls also saddles Harry The Viking, the mount of Daryl Jacob.
Ante-post favourite Bobs Worth lines up for Nicky Henderson and is joined by stable companion Roberto Goldback.
Ireland are strongly represented with First Lieutenant, Magnanimity and Irish Grand National hero Lion Na Bearnai.
Last year's Hennessy star Carruthers defends his crown, while Diamond Harry aims to regain the title he won in 2010.
The Package, Teaforthree - the mount of Tony McCoy - and Hold On Julio are other major contenders.
The three withdrawals from the confirmation stage were Junior, who instead runs in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on the same day, Planet Of Sound and Tatenen.
Today's meeting at Thurles got the go-ahead following an early morning inspection.