Nicky Henderson is not keen to run the nine-year-old, who was second to Al Boum Photo in March, on very testing ground so close to his main assignment. He is 9-4 favourite with the sponsors for this weekend's race.
He will hold discussions with owner Richard Kelvin-Hughes and a decision will be taken over whether he heads straight to the Festival or not.
“I need to talk to Richard Kelvin-Hughes to be fair,” Henderson told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.
“I would be nervous about him in heavy ground because he doesn’t like it. These races are more about – it is called Trials Day – it is a trial. If he’s going to hate it it will do more harm than good.
“We’re just juggling balls and I’ve got to say it’s 50-50. If it was heavy ground, I’ve got to discuss with Richard, but I would say to him it’s not going to be ideal and he’s a horse you have to keep shovelling on the coal, so if he’s not having a happy time it’s not what he wants at this stage.
“You could bash on (to the spring). There are ways of doing it these days, there are various racecourses and all-weather tracks. The only problem with him is he loves work.
“We might have to think of something else, but the ground is heavy everywhere and it’s not going to be any better next week or the week after, I suspect. It is a nightmare at the moment.”
Henderson could have waited for Newbury’s Denman Chase, but he already has a runner pencilled in for that who has not been seen this season.
“Champ is definitely going for the Denman at Newbury, that is a definite plan,” said Henderson.
“He’s had a big away day where he jumped very well. He needed it, and it was our attempt to have a sort of race before the Denman so it won’t take so much out of him come the day. He’s in good form.
“We haven’t got as far as who will ride him.”
Adding another complication to the Santini situation is the fact red-hot Arkle favourite Shishkin is due to run at Doncaster on Saturday, leaving Nico de Boinville with a potential dilemma.
“Nico and I think the one thing we must do is run Shishkin at Doncaster. Whether Nico will be at Doncaster, I suppose we have to decide what Santini does,” added Henderson.
Owner Garth Broom is optimistic the fire still burns brightly in Native River as the 2018 Gold Cup winner returns to the scene of his finest hour for the Cotswold Chase.
Now an 11-year-old, Broom’s pride and joy has won more than £1million in prize-money – with a Welsh National and a Hennessy Gold Cup also on his record.
He has won Newbury’s Denman Chase three times, too. But he picked up an injury in that race last year – a setback which ruled him out of the Gold Cup – and along with trainer Colin Tizzard, his owner has agreed a change in tack this time as he heads to Cheltenham on Saturday instead.
It will be Native River’s second run of the season, after he finished a close third to Lake View Lad in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree last month.
“We know he’ll go in the heavy ground at least, so that will be in his favour,” said Broom. “I thought he ran really well at Aintree first time out. If they hadn’t taken all the fences out (for low sun) I think he’d probably have won, but that’s just my opinion.
“He had Frodon well behind him, and he came out and won the King George. Considering it was almost a Flat race, I thought he acquitted himself really well.
“He might be 11, but he’s never been over-raced. If they are running in the top class and in testing conditions you can’t run them too often. There aren’t that many races for him these days, given his rating and the distance he needs.
“We did actually put him in the Welsh National to have a look. But he’d have been giving lots of weight to young improvers, like the winner – and that’s not fair on him.
“As we weren’t ready for the Betfair, we went for the Many Clouds. He doesn’t like Kempton, so the King George wasn’t on the radar. Last year we waited for the Denman – but it jarred him up, and we missed the Gold Cup.”
He added: “Even if Santini doesn’t run there’s still Bristol De Mai, who will like the ground, but he seems to be very well – from what we can see anyway!
“We keep having videos sent to us, because we can’t go to see him at the moment of course. He seems full of himself on the gallops. He’s 11 now, so we can’t expect miracles – but I hope he runs well, and then it’s on to the Gold Cup.”
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