Native River and Bristol De Mai in test of Gold Cup credentials
Betfair Denman Chase | 2m7f86yds | Grade 2 | ITV4 and RUK
This race could be seen as a disappointment if measured by quantity. However, judged by quality, it is anything but with Native River and Bristol De Mai, two genuine Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders, going head to head.
Colin Tizzard, responsible for one of the contest's two big guns, calls it "a lovely race".
The Tizzard-trained Native River trades between 4-1 and 6-1 for the Cheltenham Festival's ultimate showpiece, while Bristol De Mai is not far behind him, his odds ranging from 10-1 to 14-1. The handicapper rates them only 2lb apart and the pair go to Newbury having posted superb performances in handicaps this winter.
A mouthwatering clash awaits in a trial won in recent years by subsequent Gold Cup heroes Kauto Star, Denman and Coneygree.
Native River knows Newbury well, having won there twice, most notably when claiming the final Hennessy Gold Cup. He followed up off the same mark, again under today's partner Richard Johnson, when making much of the running in the Coral Welsh Grand National. This is a different sort of test but potentially one equally demanding.
"If we're going to go down the Gold Cup route we nearly have to win," said Tizzard, who also boasts Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack and another major fancy in Cue Card.
"After the Welsh National we gave him an easy fortnight. Since then we've prepared him as we would for any race. I'm not saying he'll improve for it, as I don't think he will.
"He'd probably be better on slightly springier ground but he put any ground worries to bed at Chepstow. His form has been good and we know he likes the course. This is a good, honest staying horse and he's running in a lovely race."
"I'm not nervous about him as I think he'll run a very good race," said Twiston-Davies.
"The handicapper says our horse is only 2lb behind Native River, so we have every reason to be hopeful. I'm also hoping our horse will have too much speed.
"The fact there are only three runners doesn't worry us at all, as he's now very straightforward. In the old days he used to be very buzzy and would have gone too quick. Now he'll just go his own pace."
The formbook suggests the pace Bristol De Mai and Native River will go should be too much for the Paul Nicholls-trained Le Mercurey, who at least ensures we do not have a match, as was the case 25 years ago when Knight Oil beat Private Audition in what was then the Compton Chase.
Nicholls said of the Randox Health Grand National entry: "A small field suits Le Mercurey. He showed that when he ran very well against Many Clouds at Aintree.
"There are two good horses in there and we are under no illusions. We should be finishing third but you never know in a three-horse race."
Once this race has been run, however, we should know much more.