Horse Talk with Simon Jackson:
Top horse racing tips and the latest news.
NATIVE RIVER boosted his claims as a leading contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup with decisive victory in the Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday.
The ultra-consistent 10-year-old justified odds of 8-11 to lead all the way in a boutique field of three runners, scoring by 12 lengths to become the first horse to secure back to back victories in the £50,000 contest run over an extended two miles and seven furlongs.
The success followed a long injury-enforced lay-off and was his first run since finishing third to Sizing John in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Cheltenham showpiece is once again the target for the gelding whose trainer, Colin Tizzard, said the victory was a “lovely prep for the Gold Cup.”
“It’s an absolute relief,” Tizzard said. “We have all seen what he can do last year and the two greys were going very well on the cross-fence. When he starts to lengthen his stride, he is so fluent and fast – he is just a good horse. He came away and you couldn’t have asked for any more.
“He has that lobbing stride. He honestly wouldn’t beat anything on our gallops – we worked him Thursday and he went down by three or four lengths over four and a half furlongs – but that’s just him.
“That was a lovely prep for the Gold Cup. As long as he is alright over the next 10 days, the dream is still alive. We couldn’t miss this race if we wanted to go for the Gold Cup and it has worked out fine.
“That was just what we wanted for his first run back. My biggest worry was that the meeting would be frosted off and we would run out of options before Cheltenham.
“He has hardly blown when he came back in. He is an exceptional horse. We had to wait for his ligament to heal. It wasn’t a bad injury but we just had to wait and that is why he wasn’t out before Christmas.
“We will now go straight to Cheltenham with him. We will go to Cheltenham fresh this year whereas some of the other contenders have had hard races already. The stable wasn’t in great form going into Cheltenham last year – I think we had gone 52 runners without a winner.
“Native River had won the Hennessy, Welsh National and this race before Cheltenham last season, so had had a long campaign. Whether it was that or the stable form that beat us at Cheltenham, I don’t know. We were beaten by two very horses at Cheltenham.”
Jockey Richard Johnson added: “It’s a funny race when you have three runners like that and Native River is coming back from the best part of a year without a run. They were very happy with him at home but nobody wanted to give him a really hard race today.
“He is almost better when you are aggressive on him but he enjoyed his jumping today and when I really did ask him over the last three or four fences, he answered every call and did it with enthusiasm.
“I think that he is back in great form and, if he can run the same race as he did in the Gold Cup last year, it has to give him every chance again this year. It looks a very open race – it’s still a very tough race like it is every year – but he can’t be too far away if he can reproduce that run.”
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