Native River won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018, after a home-straight tussle with Might Bite produced one of the great Cheltenham festival races.
Jonjo O’Neill junior was assigned to ride the 10-year old by trainer Colin Tizzard, with regular jockey Richard Johnson out of action with a broken arm.
Dorset-based trainer Tizzard said: “The (2018) Gold Cup left its effect on him last year, he performed to a high standard but not quite his best. This season he’s back in and much better in himself.
“With his big white blaze and his four white feet you can never miss him. He’s such a pleasure to have in the yard, he really is.”
Might Bite has been a shadow of the horse that came second in that Gold Cup and that won the Betway Bowl Chase at Aintree a month later, Nicky Henderson’s 11-year old has failed to complete each of his last three course runs.
Native River is looking to win his third Denman Chase in four years and is currently the 3-10 favourite, with Might Bite at 6-1.
Paul Nicholls has a sole entry in a race that he has won a record nine times, as jockey Harry Cobden rides Secret Investor in a seven-strong field.
Last month, Native River was named as one of the 105 entries into this year’s Grand National in April, and is entered to go again in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Altior aiming to bounce back at Newbury
Two-time Champion Chase winner Altior will reappear in the Win Bigger On The Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury on Saturday.
Registered as the Game Spirit Chase, Altior is looking to bounce back after his loss to Cyrname at Ascot in November, which ended the 10-year old’s 19-race unbeaten streak.
Five-time champion trainer Henderson regretted entering Altior in this race as the ground and trip wasn’t suitable, however he has spoken highly of Altior’s work at Seven Barrows stables since then.
He said: “He has been in good form and is working as well as ever. No horse in England would have kept up with him, what he was doing the other day. If you blinked you would have missed it, but that is him.
“You might have seen the film of him schooling (on social media) and you won’t see anything faster. You seriously wonder why you would want to go any further than two miles.”
Altior was beaten by Cyrname in the Christy 1965 Chase, but this weekend is back down to his preferred trip of two miles and is the 4-9 favourite.
Going for his third win in the Game Spirit, Altior comes up against the returning Dynamite Dollars, who hasn’t raced since January of last year.
Trained by Paul Nicholls, Dynamite Dollars could put himself in the fray for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, a race Altior has won at the last two festivals.
Sceau Royal, Kalashnikov and Bun Doran are all entered, as well as 13-year old veteran Simply Ned.