Native River will continue his preparations for a fourth outing in the Cheltenham Gold Cup by returning to the track next month in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.
The 2018 Gold Cup winner is being readied by Colin Tizzard to tackle the Grade Two prize on January 30, in preference to the following month’s Denman Chase at Newbury, which he has won three times in the past four seasons.
Having been forced to miss this year’s Gold Cup with injury, Native River made a satisfactory return to action when finishing third in the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase at Aintree, which he had claimed 12 months earlier.
Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He is a fantastic jumper and he jumped brilliantly throughout the race at Aintree.
“They took the fences out up the home straight which wouldn’t have helped, but Dicky (Richard Johnson) said they weren’t able to see a great deal (because of low sun).
“He had every chance bypassing what would have been the last though. He has come out of the race well and the plan is to have a go at the Cotswold Chase before having a crack at the Gold Cup.
“He just got jarred up in the Denman last season as it went a bit quick for him and it could do that again, so we thought we would go for the Cotswold instead as he needs that cut in the ground.”
Though Native River, who is a general 33-1 shot for the Gold Cup, will turn 11 on January 1, Tizzard junior believes he could still have a major say if conditions are in his favour.
He said: “He was two out of two last season and ran a blinder on his comeback this season. He has still got plenty of ability.
“If the ground came up in his favour at Cheltenham we know he is a solid performer, especially around there.”
Plans remain fluid for multiple Grade One winner Thistlecrack, who was ruled out of making his first start in over a year in the Porsche Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday after being reported to be lame.
Tizzard added: “No decision has been made either way with Thistlecrack as to whether to keep on racing him or retire him.
“The ground wouldn’t have stopped us going to Ascot, he was just a bit sore on Saturday morning and wasn’t quite 100 per cent which was a shame.
“We want to just get him right over the Christmas and new year period before we make any decisions.”