Native River will face 15 rivals when he bids for back-to-back victories in Friday’s Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Colin Tizzard’s bold-jumping chestnut saw off Might Bite in an epic renewal of the blue riband 12 months ago and with conditions having turned in his favour, he is well fancied to become the first horse to win successive renewals since the legendary three-times winner Best Mate (2002-2004).
Tizzard also sends Welsh Grand National hero Elegant Escape and Thistlecrack into battle.
Paul Nicholls relies on Clan Des Obeaux as he bids to claim a joint-record fifth Gold Cup success.
It is 10 years since the Ditcheat maestro last claimed the most prestigious prize in National Hunt racing with Kauto Star, but he has strong claims of adding to his tally with this season’s King George and Ascot Chase hero.
The Irish challenge is headed by Pat Kelly’s dual Festival winner Presenting Percy — who will be making his first competitive appearance over fences since winning the RSA Chase last season.
Having saddled the runner-up on six occasions, Willie Mullins has a strong hand of four runners as he bids to finally break his Gold Cup hoodoo.
Irish Gold Cup winner Bellshill and Savills Chase victor Kemboy are joined by stablemates Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only.
Double Shuffle will be a big outsider for Tom George, but the Slad-based trainer reports his charge to be in rude health.
He said: “He’s in unbelievably good form. He’s in as good a form as we’ve had him.
“As long as it doesn’t get very soft his owners are keen to let him take his chance and I can understand why.
“We’ll let him take his chance and just see what happens, you never know. He’s been second in a King George.
“He loved Cheltenham as a young horse so we thought we’ve nothing to lose. Johnny Burke rides him.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies will be hoping his dual Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai can reproduce his Haydock form, while Gordon Elliott will be keeping his fingers crossed last year’s JLT Novices’ Chase heroine Shattered Love can bounce back to her best.
The field is completed by last year’s runner-up Might Bite (Nicky Henderson), last year’s third Anibale Fly (Tony Martin), Definitly Red (Brian Ellison) and Yala Enki (Venetia Williams).