Native River made a successful return from almost a year on the sidelines with an impressive display in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury.
Colin Tizzard's charge won the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Welsh Grand National and this Grade Two prize last season and despite having been off the track since finishing third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March, he was a well-backed 8-11 favourite for his belated comeback.
The eight-year-old soon adopted his customary pacesetting role in the hands of champion jockey Richard Johnson, with his two opponents Saphir Du Rheu and Cloudy Dream content to bide their time.
Johnson began to wind up the gallop on leaving the back straight and the race-fit Cloudy Dream loomed up looking a big threat after straightening up for home.
His effort was short-lived, however, and Native River's superior stamina shone through between the final two fences as he powered clear to score in comfortable style.
Cloudy Dream was second, with Saphir Du Rheu last of the three on his first start since falling in the Grand National last April.
Johnson told ITV Racing: "It was the perfect comeback for him. It was only a small injury he had, but the owners were fantastic and the Tizzards have given him a nice, slow comeback.
"It was a bit of a cat-and-mouse race today and I'm sure the other two lads were thinking they'd have a go at me after two out. I wanted to try to get a bit of company going to four out, and when they didn't come I thought I'd wind it up from three out and to be fair to him, he's really picked up.
"He idled a bit in the last 100 yards, but for a comeback run it was a perfect."
Looking forward to a second bid for Gold Cup glory, the jockey added: "He feels every bit as good as he did last year. I think if he can produce last year's run in the Gold Cup, that puts him bang there.
"He was only beaten just over two lengths in it last year and the Gold Cup looks very open this year.
"You've got to think he's got a fantastic chance." Tizzard told Racing UK:
"Absolute relief. We all saw what he can do last year. You can't ask for any more really.
"It was an ideal prep for the Gold Cup and as long as he's OK in the next 10 days, the dream is still alive.
"When they turned to the cross-fence the two greys were travelling very well, but he's a good jumper and when Richard asked he went away almost effortlessly. He's such a good horse.
"I'm sure he'll improve, it's race fitness isn't it? The cards were dealt for us when he had ligament trouble. This was always going to be his first race.
"We were getting a bit jumpy when the frost was forecast as we needed this race before the Gold Cup."
Garth Broom, part of the Brocade Racing syndicate that own Native River, said: "That has released a few pressure valves. You can see the steam coming out of my ears!
"Hopefully he hasn't had a hard race, he doesn't appear to have and it worked perfectly. It was better than I expected and there was a serious possibility that he could have been beaten today.
"He has been working well at home and we couldn't do any more with him. It was absolutely ideal.
"The dream is still on and I can relax now for another few weeks. I'm absolutely delighted."
Ruth Jefferson was pleased with the performance of Cloudy Dream, who appears likely to come back in trip for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham next month before potentially tackling three miles again at Aintree in April.
She said: "We will try him for the Ryanair. He has done nothing wrong and I'm pleased with how he has run. He has handled the ground and jumped fab.
"We will have a look at the Betfair Bowl as I think three miles around Aintree on good ground - it is a sharper track - wouldn't be a problem.
"Looking at that today, you couldn't see him coming up (the hill) in the Cheltenham Gold Cup."