Gold Cup hope Native River fit and firing ahead of Newbury return
The owner of Native River is hoping the absent 2016 Hennessy and Welsh National winner can complete the last piece of the jigsaw and stake his claim for another tilt at the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.
After a demanding campaign last term, Native River's return has been delayed to the second half of the season, with the Betfair Denman Chase, which he also won last year, set as his comeback target.
Native River will face a maximum four rivals on Saturday as there were no additions after the race was reopened on Monday – Cloudy Dream, Fountains Windfall, Saphir Du Rheu and Traffic Fluide are the other entries.
Garth Broom, who owns Native River with wife Ann, hopes it will be the stepping stone to Cheltenham, where the horse finished third to Sizing John in the Gold Cup, beaten two and three-quarter lengths.
Broom said: "He's as ready as you can get him at home without having a race. All the reports are that Colin [Tizzard] and his team are very happy with him.
"In the past he's always wanted one race as a warm-up and this is what the idea is. If he got beat, as long as he ran a good race, it wouldn't be a complete disaster. It's the means to an end to get him to the Gold Cup."
Despite not having run since last year's Cheltenham Festival, Native River is 10-1 third favourite for the Gold Cup, with only Sizing John, who flopped on his last run over Christmas, between him and Might Bite in the betting.
"What happened last year was we were running him in the big races to see if he was a Gold Cup horse," said Broom. "Now we know he is we didn't have to go through that process.
"The form of the stable dipped slightly at Cheltenham last year and he was beaten only two and three-quarter lengths and nutted on the line by Minella Rocco, his old foe.
"I'm hoping he'll perform well but the trouble is most of the horses that have come out haven't," Broom added. "It's the last piece of jigsaw.
"He loves Newbury. He's run in three chases there, the Hennessy and Denman last season and a novice the season before, and he's never been beaten there over fences, I'm hoping it will continue.
"I never get over confident but am always hopeful. As long as he shows his sparkle again, that's the main thing."
Another star who could make his return at Newbury on Saturday is Altior, who features among seven entries for the Betfair Exchange Chase. Nicky Henderson's unbeaten chaser could face Tingle Creek hero Politologue and dual Grade 1 winner Fox Norton.
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