Trainers Colin Tizzard and Gordon Elliott dominate the 39 entries, with five apiece, for the Grade One Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup which takes centre stage on the fourth and final day of The Festival, Friday, March 17.
The three and a quarter mile showpiece is the richest non-handicap chase run in Britain and boasts a total prize fund of £575,000.
The 39 horses represents the highest number of entries since 40 were engaged in 2013 and the second-highest level since 2008.
Tizzard's five-strong team is led by superstar novice Thistlecrack. The nine-year-old, a runaway winner of the Stayers' Hurdle at The Festival in 2016, extended his unbeaten sequence over fences to four with a dominant victory over stablemate and eight-time G1 scorer Cue Card in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Thistlecrack is out to become the second novice chaser, after Coneygree in 2015, to win the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup since Captain Christy succeeded in 1974.
The Tizzard team is strengthened further by Native River, who has lifted the Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National - the latter under top-weight - in two starts over fences this season, exciting French import Alary and Theatre Guide, winner of a G3 handicap chase at Cheltenham in December.
Reigning Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack heads five entries for Gordon Elliott but his retirement after injury was announced today. The 10-year-old is one of nine entries for Gigginstown House Stud, owned by Michael O'Leary of Ryanair fame.
Elliott has also put in Outlander and Don Poli, who led home and one-two for the stable in the G1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, Empire Of Dirt and Roi Des Francs, all for Gigginstown.
Zabana (Andrew Lynch) defeated Outlander by two lengths to win the G1 Growise Champion Novice Chase over three miles and a furlong at Punchestown in April. He captured a minor chase at Gowran Park in November before coming home seventh behind Outlander over Christmas.
Zabana has good form at The Festival, having just been touched off in the 2015 Coral Cup, but unseated Davy Russell at the start of last year's JLT Novices' Chase won by Black Hercules.
Trainer Andrew Lynch said: "Zabana is just ticking over at the moment and could run next in the Irish Gold Cup depending on the ground.
"He went a bit wide in the Lexus and I think he will get closer to them next time. That's what I am hoping.
"He is in the Gold Cup and also in the Ryanair. We will just see how things work out between now and then. I would have no problem going for the Gold Cup as he loves Cheltenham and the trip will be no problem.
"Thistlecrack looks the real one in the Gold Cup. He is improving but apart from him it looks quite open."
The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup is one of the few races to have eluded the all-conquering Willie Mullins and he has a couple of entries this year, both owned by Susannah Ricci, in Djakadam, runner-up for the past two years, and Vroum Vroum Mag, successful in last season's G1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle at The Festival and victorious on all her six starts over fences. Mullins has been responsible for six Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup seconds.
Paul Nicholls is the most successful current trainer in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup with four victories and the two entries from Britain's champion Jump trainer are dual King George hero Silviniaco Conti and Saphir Du Rheu.
Only once has the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup gone to France (The Fellow in 1994). There is French representation among this year's entries with Vezeley (Emmanuel Clayeux), who shaped well on his British debut when third to Cue Card and Coneygree in the G1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park in November.
Nicky Henderson, successful in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup with Long Run (2011) and Bobs Worth (2013), has made an entry for Kotkikova. The six-year-old mare is a Grade One winner in France but was only fifth on her debut for the Seven Barrows handler behind Vroum Vroum Mag in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 28.
Hopes of keeping the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in Gloucestershire rest with Jonjo O'Neill, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Fergal O'Brien.
O'Neill has a trio of entries including 2014 Stayers' Hurdle winner More Of That, this season's BetVictor Gold Cup scorer Taquin Du Seuil and Minella Rocco, who landed the four-mile National Hunt Chase at The Festival in 2016.
Twiston-Davies' two entries are Blaklion, who took the RSA Chase at The Festival in 2016, and Bristol De Mai, runner-up in the 2016 JLT Novices' Chase at The Festival. O'Brien's entry is Perfect Candidate, twice a winner in handicaps over the course and distance.
Other Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup entries include the 2014 winner Lord Windermere (Jim Culloty IRE) and 2015 Grand National hero Many Clouds (Oliver Sherwood), who was sixth in the 2015 renewal.