Timeform preview Saturday's Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury.
"He would be a very poignant winner..."
The Denman Chase is seen as one of the principal trials for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the likes of Kauto Star, Denman himself and Coneygree all taking in the race before winning at Cheltenham and, despite only attracting five entries - the race was reopened on Monday but there were no further additions - it still looks set to be an exciting renewal.
Native River was one of the highlights of the National Hunt season in 2016/17, winning the Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National before completing a marvellous hat-trick in this contest 12 months ago. The Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old did nothing but progress last season, culminating with a career-best effort in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, beaten two and three quarter lengths by Sizing John. Though he just came up short, he never stopped trying, battling all the way to the finish. His connections stated earlier this season that he would start off after Christmas, giving him extra time to get over the tough races he endured last year, something which could pay dividends come March. Native River has a perfect record over fences at Newbury, winning all three of his starts, and with positive vibes coming out of the Tizzard camp, he is sure to be popular on Saturday.
Coneygree was the last novice to win this race and Fountains Windfall, who has won both of his completed starts over fences, looks an interesting contender here. He made an impressive chasing debut when winning at Southwell in November and, though he fell on his next two starts, that doesn't tell the full story - he was likely to have won the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day had he stood up. He took advantage of a lenient mark on his handicap debut last time, doing it in some style, his jumping encouraging given his previous falls, and this looks an interesting piece of placing by Anthony Honeyball. The small field should place less pressure on his jumping and, given the likes of Native River and Saphir du Rheu have generally come on for their seasonal reappearances in the past, he could cause an upset with a clear round and looks the value in the race at around 6/1. The only worry is he has multiple entries this weekend, and isn't guaranteed to turn up here.
Saphir du Rheu is a bit of an enigma, as he clearly possesses plenty of ability - Paul Nicholls has always held him in high regard - but he hasn't always delivered as much as he's threatened to on the racecourse. Admittedly, he endured a stop-start novice campaign over fences, and was also reverted back to hurdles in the middle of 2015/16. Last season was the first time he's raced solely over fences and, though he only managed to win once (at odds of 7/1-on), he still produced bits of high-class form, notably when finishing fifth in the Gold Cup. He was let down by his jumping when falling in the Grand National on his final start and, like Native River, has presumably been kept fresh for a spring campaign. On his best form he would be competitive here, and while he has won fresh in the past, he isn't bombproof and is opposable at the prices.
Cloudy Dream is yet to finish out of the first two in ten starts over fences, again finishing second on his first start over three miles in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree last time behind Definitly Red. The winner has since boosted the form by winning the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, and Cloudy Dream still leaves the impression there is a bigger performance in him. He would be a very poignant winner following the death of his trainer Malcolm Jefferson last week, but he was essentially outstayed at Aintree, and would be of more interest back at two and a half miles.
The Gary Moore-trained Traffic Fluide completes the entries, but he hasn't built on his encouraging reappearance in two starts since, turning in a lacklustre effort when well held in the King George last time. He is on a lengthy losing run and it would be a surprise were he good enough to win here.