Joe Tizzard believes Native River may have become the forgotten horse for this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup ahead of his intended reappearance at Newbury on Saturday week.
After winning the race now known as the Ladbrokes Trophy, the Welsh Grand National and the Betfair Denman Chase last season, the eight-year-old was beaten less than three lengths in third in the blue riband at Prestbury Park last March, but has not been seen in competitive action since.
While last year's winner Sizing John, the runner-up Minella Rocco and the fourth home Djakadam have all blotted their copybook this season, Native River has been kept off the track, but is reported to be in rude health ahead of his return to action and defence of his crown in the Denman Chase.
Tizzard, assistant to his father Colin, said: "He has had his (racecourse) gallop and he is on course for Newbury. He looks a million dollars and we are just trying to get everything right for him.
"He was only beaten two and three-quarter lengths in the Gold Cup last year and has got a live chance again. If he puts up a monster display at Newbury or something like he did in the Gold Cup last year, he will soon be remembered.
"He was not far behind in the Gold Cup last season and he had a hard season. It was all about the Hennessy (Ladbrokes Trophy) last year and this year it is about the Gold Cup.
"Fingers crossed we get him there in the best shape."
Native River could be joined at Newbury on February 10 by his high-class stablemate Fox Norton.
He was last seen pulling up in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, but could revert to two miles in the Betfair Exchange Chase - better known as the Game Spirit - as connections consider whether to aim for the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Tizzard added: "He is in good form. I rode him Saturday and I rode him Monday. He is in good nick.
"He might well turn up in the Game Spirit. He is in the Ryanair and Champion Chase and we are still half wondering what to do with him, so I don't have an answer for that question yet."