Native River sights set on Welsh National repeat

He may be turning 12 in a few days, but such is Native River’s class he will still give 10lb and more to the whole of the Coral Welsh National field at Chepstow.

One of four previous winners in the race, Colin Tizzard’s 2018 Gold Cup hero loves nothing more than a stamina test in the mud and that is what he will get in Wales once again.

In his final season, it would be a famous victory for a popular horse should he pull it off.

Stablemate Elegant Escape, last year’s winner Secret Reprieve and Christian Williams’ Potters Corner are the other runners to have tasted glory in that marathon test before.

Welsh National top weight Native River
Welsh National top weight Native River (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Garth Broome, Native River’s owner, does not see his welter burden proving a problem.

“We are looking forward to it,” he said.

“He used to carry more than that weight before. It is not necessarily the weight he has got, it is more about what the others are carrying.

“He likes Chepstow and the distance, so if the forecast rain comes we’ll be happy. He will always run his race and is as genuine as they come.”

It has been an unusual preparation for Secret Reprieve, who has not been seen since last year’s heroics.

It has been a mixed season for trainer Evan Williams, with big-race successes for the likes of Dans Le Vent, Coole Cody and Ansaam. But his team have had to cope with the loss of yard favourite Silver Streak.

Secret Reprieve winning the race last season
Secret Reprieve winning the race last season (David Davies/PA)

“We’ve got some very, very smart horses and we’ve got a lot of the lesser lights running good races, people cling on to those big Saturday wins, they’re the ones that get you noticed,” said Williams.

“I suppose this fellow’s (Secret Reprieve) work at home is good against horses which have been running very, very big races in big Saturday races.

“If it happens again, fantastic, if it doesn’t, as long as we come back in one piece then I’ll be delighted.”

Paul Nicholls has won the race as a trainer and a jockey, but not since L’Aventure in 2005. He thinks he has a big chance this year with Highland Hunter.

Highland Hunter (right) winning the Betfair Exchange London National Handicap Chase
Highland Hunter (right) winning the Betfair Exchange London National Handicap Chase (Steven Paston/PA)

“It was a pleasant surprise (when) he won at Sandown as I was using it as a prep race for this. I thought he would blow up two out, but he got his second wind and stayed on well,” said Nicholls

“He carried 11st 12lb over three-mile-five there so he’s a really strong stayer. The softer the ground the better and he must go there with a big chance.

“He went up 4lb but that’s neither here nor there in my eyes, I don’t think 4lb would be stopping him if he runs to his best.”

Nicholls also runs 2019 runner-up Truckers Lodge.

Sandy Thomson sends Hill Sixteen down from his Lambden base after just losing out in the Becher Chase over the Aintree fences.

“It was a hell of a performance in the Becher Chase and he never really got the credit he deserved,” said Thomson.

“It was an amazing performance to pull that out of the bag when you consider where he’d been and what he had done.

“I knew he was well and hoped he would run a nice race, but to perform like that was beyond our wildest dreams. He is still technically 2lb well in.

“We are delighted to be going and we are as confident as we can be. I don’t know that rain will be absolutely necessary for him.”

Sam Thomas’ Iwilldoit was a convincing winner of the Welsh Grand National Trial earlier in the month, prevailing by 24 lengths from Colorado Doc over a trip just short of three miles.

The eight-year-old was given a 4lb penalty for the win which left him 6lb wrong at the weights, but as the handicapper subsequently raised him 10lb he runs off his correct mark.

“It (the trial win) wasn’t a great surprise, he certainly showed us what he can do,” the trainer told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’s always been a good jumper, he’s a pleasure to ride at home – he’s a bit of a natural, so it was a surprise to see him do what he did at Kelso when he nearly fell at the first. It was just a bit of a write-off that day.

“Like any sort of stayer, once you get them into their comfort zone they can maintain that gallop, I’ve no doubt he’ll get the trip.

“Native River brings a high level of class to the race, and we’ve got to step up, we’re aware of that. But the fact we’ve got 10st is a real bonus. For a horse who likes to bowl along from somewhere near the front, to have a nice low weight, he’ll think he’s loose.

“It will be great if it comes off, it’s been the plan for a little while.”

Peter Fahey’s The Big Dog travels from County Kildare, with Scotland represented by Lucinda Russell and her Scottish National winner Mighty Thunder.

Also well-fancied is Venetia Williams’ Hold That Taught, who began his season in good form when taking a three-and-a-quarter-mile handicap at Carlisle in October.

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