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Native River primed for Denman Chase return ahead of Gold Cup challenge

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Native River makes his eagerly-awaited seasonal reappearance ahead of a crack at the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup when he takes on just two rivals in Saturday's Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury.

Colin Tizzard's classy staying chaser has not graced the track since finishing third in last year's blue riband after winning this race, and the trainer pinpointed the same route as far back as August.

"I'm really looking forward to it. Everything has gone to plan," said Tizzard.

"This was the only race he could go in if he didn't run in the King George or the Cotswold, so we planned it out from August to start here and we're nearly there

"Our job is to go there, run a good race and get ready for the Gold Cup. He's schooled well and he's galloped well."

Saphir Du Rheu finished two places behind Native River when fifth to Sizing John in the 2017 Gold Cup and fell when Tizzard's ace lifted the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2016.

The Paul Nicholls-trained grey has been absent since tipping up at the 11th fence in the Grand National last April.

As a result, owner Andy Stewart expects his runner to benefit from the outing and is not predicting victory with old adversary Native River in the line-up.

"Saphir will need the run, Paul has made no secret of that and Native River will probably win," said Stewart.

"Our season will not be defined by what happens here, though, and with the Gold Cup wide open, we don't have much to find from last year.

"Hopefully he puts himself in the picture."

Ruth Jefferson feels it is worth giving Cloudy Dream a second chance to see if he stays three miles.

The eight-year-old ran over two miles and two and a half this season before tackling three miles and a furlong at Aintree, where he was beaten seven lengths by Definitly Red in a four-runner affair for the Many Clouds Chase.

Jefferson said: "He's fit and well and we've always felt he could get three miles. He's definitely not a two-miler any more and whether two and a half is best trip now, we're not sure.

"This race should tell us a lot about where we're going. He's in the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and he's up against two horses who ran well in the Gold Cup last year.

"Those two haven't run for a while, but in a way we want them to run up to their best as we want to learn whether our horse is a Gold Cup horse or not.

"I hope they go a good gallop and what will be will be."