Native River and Might Bite engage in what promises to be a fascinating rematch in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.
The Colin Tizzard-trained Native River saw off Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite in a pulsating renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, with the abundant stamina of the former Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National hero proving crucial in the testing conditions at Prestbury Park.
Wind the clock forward eight months and with the unseasonably dry weather ensuring a predominantly sound surface will prevail on Merseyside this weekend, the classy Might Bite is a hot favourite to turn the tables and exact his revenge.
However, Joe Tizzard – assistant to his father – is hoping Native River can confirm his superiority.
He said: “It has always been the plan to go straight to Haydock. He has been back in since the middle of July and hasn’t missed a day, touch wood.
“We could have run him again after the Gold Cup as he came out of it well, but he jarred himself the season before – which was well publicised – and we didn’t want to take any risks as we think he is capable of going back there again.
“We turned him out, he has had a proper preparation for this season and we can’t wait to run him.”
While Might Bite would appear to have things more in his favour this weekend than he did for that titanic tussle in March, Tizzard believes it would be folly to pigeonhole Native River as just a mud lark.
He added: “He is a very good mover. He has been given this brand that he is a slogger, but he has got a bit of class as well.
“He is as tough as they come and mentally he is just what you need. We probably put him into that bracket (as a slogger) in his novice days and we thought Dicky (Richard Johnson) would suit him down to the ground as he would keep sending him on.
“But even when he won on him first time out, he said he is better than that. I think he showed that when he won at Newbury last season.”
The Tizzards have a strong second string to their bow in the form of Thistlecrack.
The 10-year-old looked well placed to dominate the division after winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton two years ago, but well-publicised injury problems have restricted him to just three subsequent starts.
He has not been seen in competitive action since finishing fourth behind Might Bite when defending his King George crown last Christmas, but connections hope he can prove he is no back number on Saturday.
Tizzard said: “He was going to run in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, but as the ground went against us we couldn’t do that.
“We were always fighting a battle with him last season physically. We thought he ran a good race in the King George, but he was sore coming out of it and he had a stress fracture in his hind leg.
“The question with him is are we going to get him back to his old self? At home we think we’ve got him back virtually there – it’s whether or not he can do it on the course. Fingers crossed he will.”