Natal could bypass Cheltenham in favour of a crack at the Topham Trophy over the Grand National fences after plundering the Connaught Gold Cup at Newbury.
The victory of the 3-1 joint favourite ensured champion trainer Paul Nicholls netted another big weekend prize, with Nick Scholfield doing the steering on this occasion.
He always had the seven-year-old to the fore and the pair kicked clear after the second-last to score by two lengths, with William Hill then trimming him to 14-1 from 20s for the Racing Post Plate.
Nicholls said: “He is in the Racing Post Plate and has run well at Cheltenham before but I am not sure if 20 runners going flat out there will suit him.
“He suits a flat track too so now we have sorted his jumping the Topham could be the race for him, but today was his big one.”
The National Britannia Veterans’ Handicap Chase was restricted to horses aged 10 years and upwards but still produced a spectacle of a finish with six of the 13 runners crossing the second-last in unison.
Briery Fox had made steady headway from the off the pace and looked like keeping on for victory only for the David Pipe-trained Tango Royal (16-1) to see him off by two lengths.
Trainer David Pipe said: “These races for older horses are fantastic and are well-supported. Whoever came up with the idea of veterans’ chases needs a pat on the back.
“He’s been a star through the years and we have had him a long time, so it’s great to see him win again in such a competitive finish.”
Trouble At Bay (9-1) was another to roll back the years as the eight-year-old scored for the first time in 14 months with a power-packed display in the Connaught Compliance Handicap Hurdle.
Cryptic came home like an odds-on favourite should when thumping his six rivals by upwards of 24 lengths in the Connaught plc “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.
Philip Hobbs’ 2-9 market leader hacked along in front and stretched right way under Richard Johnson to score under a 10lb penalty.
Totesport trimmed the six-year-old into 16-1 for the Albert Bartlett Spa Novices’ Hurdle while William Hill and Stan James are 14-1 and 12-1 respectively for the Pertemps Final.
Hobbs’ wife Sarah said: “He is in both races at Cheltenham and we have no preference which he goes for. We’ll just see which looks the easiest nearer the time.”
A switch to fences saw Island Flyer (9-2) click as he left a few disappointing efforts over hurdles behind in the Connaught Partnerships Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Trainer Tom George said: “He’ll make up into a lovely three-mile chaser and we might try him in a nice novice chase before the end of the season.”
George completed a 29-1 double as last weekend’s Chepstow winner Majaales followed up at odds of 9-2 in the Connaught Environmental Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
Carl Llewellyn rode his own Strategic Approach to a two-length victory in the Run For Sarah Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race, with the 3-1 joint favourite holding off market rival Moleskin.