HURRICANE Fly will face just four rivals as he aims to regain his crown in the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown tomorrow.
The 2011 Champion Hurdle hero missed the first half of last season with injury, but following a scintillating comeback in the Irish Champion Hurdle, he was odds-on to strike gold again at Cheltenham in March.
However, he was beaten into third in a lacklustre display and although he did sign off with victory at Punchestown, he headed into the new campaign with questions to answer.
Willie Mullins' stable star travelled with far more zest when making a winning return in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown last month and will be odds-on to follow up this weekend.
The champion trainer also saddles the consistent Thousand Stars, while the main threat from outside the yard is Dermot Weld-trained mare Unaccompanied, winner of this Grade One prize 12 months ago.
Eddie Harty's veteran Captain Cee Bee and rank outsider Tilabay complete the line-up.
Mullins is pleased with Hurricane Fly's condition going into his latest assignment as he aims to make it five wins from five starts at Leopardstown.
"He's in good form, I'm very pleased with him at home at the moment," said Mullins.
"Leopardstown is a track we know he likes, he's won there on all sorts of ground, so we'll see what happens.
"We'll get tomorrow out of the way before we make plans for the rest of the season."
Thousand Stars failed to fire on his seasonal reappearance at Tipperary in October but the champion trainer believes his grey is in better form now.
"I just hadn't been that happy with him going into the Tipperary race, but I think he is starting to come back to himself," said Mullins.
"He has run well at Leopardstown before and the ground should be all right for him.
"I decided to stick to two miles with him rather than run him in the three-mile race (Christmas Hurdle)."
Weld believes Unaccompanied will improve for the run fitness-wise on her first appearance since appearing on the Flat at Leopardstown in early November.
The trainer said: "It's her comeback race and she'll be running against the very best, against Hurricane Fly.
"She'll probably need the run, but I think she'll represent us very well."
Captain Cee Bee was 12 lengths behind Hurricane Fly when second in the Morgiana, profiting from the final flight fall of the ill-fated Go Native.
Harty would be content with a similar result for his charge.
He said: "He's in good form, I'm very happy with him and we'll see what happens.
"If our horse can run as well as he did in the Morgiana behind Hurricane Fly I'll be happy.
"It's a good race with Thousand Stars in there as well, so we'll just keep our fingers crossed.
"He enjoyed being back over the proper hurdles in the Morgiana and at this stage of his career we want to keep him happy. There is no point asking him questions he can't answer.
"We had him in the three-mile hurdle but with the way the ground has gone, we decided to stick to the shorter race."