Champion jockey Richard Johnson feels Native River is coming nicely to the boil, with the defence of his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown now just over a month away.
The Colin Tizzard-trained star won the Blue Riband last season in fine style, leading for most of the 3m2f journey before fending off the attention of Might Bite to score.
This term he has failed to win in two starts, chasing home Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase before finishing third behind Clan Des Obeaux and Thistlecrack in the King George at Kempton.
Those tests were deemed less than ideal for Native River given that he thrives on a thorough test of stamina.
“Both his races this season haven’t suited him ideally, but I think he’s still run two really good races,” said Johnson.
He was slotted in for the Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday although that race has been lost due to the equine influenza outbreak in Britain.
It could mean all roads lead back to Cheltenham and the Gold Cup on March 15, with Johnson making no secret of the fact the race is the key target.
“I’d like to think Newbury will suit better and then Cheltenham in March will be the day he gets all the conditions to suit him,” he added.
“The Gold Cup is obviously the race we all want to win but they actually are his optimum conditions, as we saw last year.”
Native River is 6.00 to win a second Cheltenham Gold Cup while Clan Des Obeaux is 8.00. Presenting Percy remains ante-post favourite at 4.00.