Last year's winner Buveur D'Air heads 15, including one supplementary entry made today, going for glory in the £469,440 G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle (3.30pm) over an extended two miles, the highlight at Cheltenham on the first day of the Festival, Champion Day, Tuesday, March 13.
Buveur D'Air (Nicky Henderson), one of three Unibet Champion Hurdle contenders for The Festival's leading owner J P McManus, is the 8/15 market leader with Unibet as he bids to land back-to-back renewals of the two-mile hurdling championship.
Unbeaten in three starts this season, the seven-year-old was the easy winner of the G1 Unibet Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November and the G1 Unibet Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day before accounting for John Constable (Evan Williams, 50/1) in the Listed Contenders Hurdle at Sandown on February 3.
Buveur D'Air is bidding to become the first horse since Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013) to win multiple renewals of the race, while he also bids to emulate Hardy Eustace (2004 & 2005), the last horse to win successive Champion Hurdles.
Henderson and McManus are also represented by three-time Unibet Champion Hurdle runner-up, 11-year-old My Tent Or Yours (10/1), who landed the G2 Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December and last year's G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle sixth Charli Parcs. The mare Verdana Blue (50/1) completes Henderson's quartet.
The Alan King-trained Elgin (16/1) has progressed throughout this season, winning three of his five starts, including a decisive success at Ascot in November, before a neck victory in the G3 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham's November Meeting.
The six-year-old son of Duke Of Marmalade was an impressive two and a half-length victor over Ch'tibello (Dan Skalton, 33/1) in the G2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on February 17, with connections subsequently deciding to supplement the gelding for the Unibet Champion Hurdle at a cost of £20,000, which was done today.
Dan Downie, manager of owner Elite Racing Club, confirmed today: "Elgin will run in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
"We've obviously left the decision as late as possible just to ensure that he was A1 going into the race.
"He seems to be in great form at home, everyone's happy with him and therefore he has been supplemented.
"After he won the Kingwell at Wincanton, we immediately thought that we had to go down the Champion Hurdle route, but we took our time making a decision providing he came out of that race well and he did.
"He has proven form on soft ground and at the track plus he's been in great form all season. Alan [King, trainer] thinks he probably prefers slightly better ground, but the fact that he has won on soft ground at Wincanton and Cheltenham this season shows that he does handle soft conditions.
"He probably won in spite of the ground last time, but if conditions did come up soft at Cheltenham, he's proved that he can handle it.
"It's very special for the club to have another runner in the Champion Hurdle. It's hugely important for us and he is the third different horse we've had run in the race.
"Being involved in these championship races is one of the reason why you get involved in the sport.
"It's great for everyone and it's exciting to have a horse with a live chance in one of the biggest races at The Festival."
Ireland's champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins has won four of the last seven renewals of the Unibet Champion Hurdle, courtesy of Hurricane Fly (twice), Annie Power and Faugheen (5/1), one of five potential runners in the contest for the Closutton handler.
The 2015 winner Faugheen was second in the G1 Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on his latest start and could be joined in the race by stable companions Yorkhill (8/1), a well-beaten sixth behind Min (10/1) over fences at Leopardstown on February 3, Melon (14/1), second to Labaik in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at last year's Festival, and Melbourne Cup 10th Wicklow Brave (12/1), who finished seventh in the 2017 Champion Hurdle.
The Irish challenge is completed by Identity Thief (Henry de Bromhead, 66/1) and the Gordon Elliott-trained duo Mick Jazz (25/1), winner of the G1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas and Apple's Jade (12/1), who is also entered in the two and a half-mile G1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle, a race she won last year, and the G1 Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle over three miles.
Unibet Champion Hurdle, Unibet prices:
8/15 Buveur D'Air; 5/1 Faugheen; 8/1 Yorkhill; 10/1 Min, My Tent Or Yours; 12/1 Apples Jade, Wicklow Brave; 14/1 Melon; 16/1 Elgin; 25/1 Mick Jazz; 33/1 Ch'tibello; 50/1 John Constable, Verdana Blue; 66/1 Charli Parcs, Identity Thief
Each way 1/5 odds, 1-2-3
1.30pm £125,000 G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (2m 1/2f)
Mullins has dominated the roll of honour for the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle in recent years and the trainer has another strong hand as he bids for a sixth success in the curtain-raiser to The Festival.
He has three of the 28 six-day confirmations for this year's contest including Getabird (13/8 with Sky Bet), a facile nine-length winner of the G2 Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in January. Sharjah (20/1) and Whisky Sour (50/1), complete Mullins' trio.
Irish rival Gordon Elliott has two horses left in the two-mile contest, including 6/4 favourite Samcro, the impressive winner of the G1 Deloitte Novice at Leopardstown on February 4, who is more likely to start in the G1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle over two and a half-miles 24 hours later, and Mengli Khan, second to Getabird at Punchestown on his latest start.
The British challenge is headed by Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy, 5/1), who finished second to Summerville Boy (Tom George, 10/1) in the G1 32Red Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January before defeating seasoned opposition in the G3 Betfair Handicap Hurdle at Newbury last month.
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager at Sky Bet, said: "The 2018 renewal of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle looks set to live up its role as the perfect curtain-raiser at The Festival.
"Although Samcro has been left in, Getabird looks likely to go off a warm favourite on Tuesday as Willie Mullins bids to continue his superb record in the race.
"With the likes of Kalashnikov and Summerville Boy also going forward, we look set for a highly-competitive contest at 1.30pm next Tuesday."
Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle - Sky Bet prices:
6/4 Samcro; 13/8 Getabird; 5/1 Kalashnikov; 10/1 Summerville Boy; 12/1 Mengli Khan; 14/1 Claimantakinforgan; 16/1 First Flow, Sharjah; 20/1 Scarlet Dragon; 25/1 Slate House; 33/1 Simply The Betts, Western Ryder; 40/1 Debuchet, The Russian Doyen; 50/1 Lostintranslation, Minds Eye, Us And Them, Whiskey Sour; 66/1 Brahms De Clermont, Dame Rose, Suncroft, Trainwreck; 100/1 Shoal Bay; 150/1 Golden Jeffrey, Khudha; 200/1 Saxo Jack
Each way 1/5 odds, 1-2-3
2.10pm £175,000 G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase 2m
Footpad (Willie Mullins) heads the market for the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase, which has nine six-day acceptors.
The six-year-old is unbeaten in three starts over fences and defeated Petit Mouchoir (Henry de Bromhead) by five lengths in the Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown in February. Mullins' other possible contenders are Kemboy and Asthuria.
The exciting Saint Calvados (Harry Whittington), like Footpad, is also unbeaten following three victories over the larger obstacles and registered an emphatic 22-length victory in the G2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick last month, in which North Hill Harvey (Dan Skelton) finished third.
Seven Barrows maestro Nicky Henderson, successful in the race last year with Altior, could be represented by Brain Power, a faller in the G1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot last time.
2.50pm £110,000 G3 Ultima Handicap Chase 3m1f
Singlefarmpayment, a short-head second in the G3 Ultima Handicap Chase at last year's Cheltenham Festival, is among 43 confirmations for this year's renewal.
Gold Present, a winner at Ascot before Christmas, heads the weights, while the progressive Coo Star Sivola (Nick Williams), Betfred Grand National Trial winner Yala Enki (Venetia Williams) and Irish raider Snow Falcon (Noel Meade) also go forward.
4.10pm £120,000 G1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle 2m 4f
Mullins has won eight of the 10 runnings of the G1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle and Ireland's champion Jump trainer has five of the 17 contenders going forward in this year's renewal including the progressive Benie Des Dieux, who has her first start over hurdles for Mullins, following three chase victories in Ireland.
Stable companions Let's Dance, winner of the G2 Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle at last year's Festival, Meri Devie, Augusta Kate and Pravalaguna also remain engaged.
Apple's Jade (Gordon Elliott), successful in the race last year, heads the betting for the G1 event as she bids to join Quevega as a multiple winner of the two and a half-mile contest. Apple's Jade is also entered in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle and the G1 Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.
The British contingent could include G2 scorer La Bague Au Roi (Warren Greatrex), the talented Cap Soleil (Fergal O'Brien) and Nicky Henderson's duo Verdana Blue and Kayf Grace.
4.50pm £125,000 G2 National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase 4m
Elliott holds a strong hand in the G2 National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase with four of the leading contenders for the four-mile event, the longest race run at The Festival.
Jury Duty, second in a G3 event at Naas in January, the progressive Dounikos, Fagan and Mossback could all represent the County Meath handler.
No Comment (Philip Hobbs), owned by J P McManus and seventh in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle at The Festival last year, is also engaged, along with Keeper Hill (Warren Greatrex), winner of a G2 contest over three miles at Doncaster in December.
5.30pm 70,000 Listed Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (0-145) 2m 4f
The Listed Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase looks set to be another ultra-competitive affair with 41 of the 52 acceptors due to carry 11st 1lb or more. Top-weights have won three of the last six renewals and Ramses de Teillee (David Pipe), Kalondra (Neil Mulholland), Testify (Donald McCain) and Any Second Now (Ted Walsh) currently head that mantle for this year's contest.
The Elliott-trained De Plotting Shed, has attracted strong support following a second-placed finish over an inadequate two miles at Gowran Park on January 25, whilst Barney Dwan (Fergal O'Brien) and the unexposed Movewiththetimes (Paul Nicholls) are other possible runners. A maximum field of 20 horses can line up.
The going at Cheltenham is currently: Soft, Good to Soft in places
It was dry overnight, with showers today. Rain is forecast from tomorrow (Thursday) to Sunday, which is expected to yield in total up to 16 millimetres. Daytime temperatures are predicted to be 9/10 degrees Celsius.
Unsettled conditions are forecast for next week.