LAST year’s winner Native River is one of 43 entries for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 15.

The nine-year-old came out on top in a terrific duel with Might Bite last season, but neither has been able to win a race in this campaign.

Native River is part of a strong entry for Colin Tizzard that also includes 2016 King George winner Thistlecrack and Welsh National hero Elegant Escape.

Assistant-trainer Joe Tizzard said: “Thistlecrack will go straight to the Gold Cup. He hasn’t got there yet in his career, but he deserves to get there. With Native River, we haven’t definitely decided, but quite possibly he will turn up in the Denman Chase (Newbury, February 9) and then on to the Gold Cup to defend his crown.

“We were really pleased with both Native River (third) and Thistlecrack (second) at Kempton – and they have both just been ticking along since.

“Elegant Escape also has an entry for the Gold Cup, and that is almost certainly the way we will be looking – and hoping there will be a bit of cut in the ground. He will also have a Grand National entry.”

He added: “It is difficult to know what to do with Elegant Escape next. He is rated 159 now and needs to find a bit more to be competitive in a Gold Cup, but if we are going to have a big spring campaign with him and run in all the big Festivals, then it doesn’t do them any harm to just freshen him up for a month after running in a Ladbrokes Trophy and a Welsh National.”

After Might Bite’s disappointing displays this season, Nicky Henderson sent him for a wind operation in the hope of rekindling the fire. He may be joined by stablemates Terrefort and impressive Ascot winner Valtor.

The current ante-post favourite for the race is Presenting Percy, last year’s RSA Chase winner who has yet to run this season for trainer Pat Kelly.

Harry Fry’s American is also among the entries.