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Colin Tizzard salutes ‘phenomenal’ Richard Johnson

Colin Tizzard and Noel Chance, who provided Richard Johnson with his two victories in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, paid tribute to the four-time champion jockey following his retirement from the saddle.

The 43-year-old announced his unexpected decision after riding at Newton Abbot on Saturday – calling time on a glittering career spanning almost three decades.

Johnson and the Tizzard-trained Native River proved a match made in heaven – winning an epic Gold Cup in 2018 as well as finishing third in the blue riband in 2017, fourth in 2019 and fourth again last month.

Tizzard, who will shortly hand over the training licence at Venn Farm to son Joe, cannot speak highly enough of Johnson’s talent and determination to succeed.

He said: “I’m just glad he’s got out in one piece.

“He’s been phenomenal. He’s been a complete professional on and off horses and an example for any jockey coming through.

“When the opportunity came for him to ride Native River, it was like poetry in motion. They gelled together – him and that horse are like each other and achieved things we never thought possible.

“His work ethic is incredible and he’s just a good man.”

Richard Johnson and Looks Like Trouble (right) on their way to Gold Cup glory
Richard Johnson and Looks Like Trouble (right) on their way to Gold Cup glory (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Johnson’s second Gold Cup success came 18 years after his first, with Looks Like Trouble claiming victory in 2000.

Seven years later he went on to marry trainer Noel Chance’s daughter, with whom he now has three children.

Chance said: “We were sort of expecting something to happen for the last couple of weeks.

“I think he’s already said that if Native River had won the Gold Cup he’d have gone out on him, but once that didn’t happen, he really wanted to go out on one for Philip Hobbs.

“You could still be at it a month down the line and when your mind is made up, you’ve just got to do it.”

Chance recalls his first meeting with Johnson in 1995 with fondness, with his first ride for the trainer a winning one.

“We had a runner in the Summer Hurdle at Market Rasen,” Chance added.

“I was a private trainer at the time and we couldn’t get any of the big name jockeys to ride the horse.

“The fellow who owned the horse got the hump and said he’d seen a kid ride in a hunter chase a few days earlier. He said he should have fallen off, but he didn’t and his name was Johnson, so he asked me to see if we could get him.

“This was before there were a lot of jockeys’ agents and to cut a long story short, it took me two days to locate him! When I did, he was delighted to take the ride and his talent shone through immediately.

Richard Johnson has been a popular member of the weighing room
Richard Johnson has been a popular member of the weighing room (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He never went round one horse, he was on the inside the whole way round and sluiced in to win what was a very competitive handicap as a 7lb claimer.

“After that the owner wanted him to ride everything and he then fell in for the ride on Mr Mulligan and won the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot the following year.

“I’ve known him a long time and his greatest attribute is he’s a great human being. He always has been.”

After being runner-up to Sir Anthony McCoy on several occasions, Johnson finally became the champion National Hunt jockey for the first time in 2016 – a title he successfully defended for the following three years before Brian Hughes claimed the crown last season.

Hughes, who is currently in an enthralling title race with Harry Skelton, told Racing TV: “It’s definitely the end of an era.

Brian Hughes has nothing but praise for Johnson
Brian Hughes has nothing but praise for Johnson (Steve Davies/PA)

“It’s going to be different in the weighing room. I’ve known Richard since I’ve been in this country. He went out on his own terms and I wish him and his family all the best for the next chapter.

“I used to watch Richard Johnson from being very young. When he won his first Gold Cup on Looks Like Trouble, he was bred only five miles down the road from where I’m from, so it was the talk of the country at the time.

“When you’re riding against him, he’s an absolute gentleman. I can’t remember him ever raising his voice. He’s a brilliant man off the course, but a fierce competitor on it.

“He’s been at the top of his game for a long time and I was reading earlier where AP McCoy said he was so successful because he had someone like Richard Johnson pushing him every step of the way – I don’t think we’ll ever see the like of AP and Richard Johnson again.

“We all aspire to be as good as them, but in reality I don’t think we ever will be.”

Native River to spearhead Tizzard team at Aintree

Native River will lead Colin and Joe Tizzard’s team into battle at next week’s Randox Grand National meeting at Aintree.

The 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero came up short in his bid to regain his crown at Prestbury Park earlier in the month, but was far from disgraced in finishing fourth – the fourth time he has finished in the first four in the blue riband.

The 11-year-old is now set for his first tilt at the Betway Bowl on Thursday week.

Joe Tizzard, who will shortly take over the licence from his father Colin, said: “Native River came out of the Gold Cup fine. He knew he’d had a race, but he’s fine now and in full work.

“The plan is to take him to Aintree for the Bowl, as long as the ground is all right, which I’m sure it will be.

“There’s not a lot of other options for him – he’s not going to go to Punchestown. It will be Aintree and that will be it for the season.”

Despite his advancing years, Tizzard expects Native River to return next term, adding: “He’s still the highest rated horse in England and finished the best of the English in the Gold Cup – and he was very impressive the time before that at Sandown.

“There’s no reason not to (bring him back next season).”

Far more disappointing in the Gold Cup was Native River’s stablemate Lostintranslation, who was pulled up by Robbie Power after never threatening to land a blow.

Lostintranslation has endured a disappointing campaign
Lostintranslation has endured a disappointing campaign (Anthony Devlin/PA)

A close-up third in the race last season, the Flemensfirth gelding has failed to rediscover that level of form in four subsequent outings.

“We’ve done quite a few tests (since Cheltenham) and nothing really steps out,” said Tizzard.

“He’s not going to go to Aintree. There’s an outside chance he might go to the Menorah Chase at Sandown on the last day of the season and drop down in grade a little bit.

“We can’t quite put our finger on what the problem is, but it’s not quite happening for him at the moment.

“It’s our job to suss it all out.”

Native River is set to be joined at Aintree by a handful of stable companions who did perform well in defeat at Cheltenham.

Eldorado Allen finished a creditable second behind Shishkin in the Arkle Trophy, while Fiddlerontheroof and The Big Breakaway placed second and third respectively behind the mighty Monkfish in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Oscar Elite, meanwhile, filled the runner-up spot in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in the Cotswolds.

Tizzard added: “Fiddlerontheroof and The Big Breakaway are both Aintree-bound, as is Eldorado Allen, who will probably step up to two and a half miles (for the Manifesto Novices’ Chase).

Trainer Colin Tizzard with Eldorado Allen
Trainer Colin Tizzard with Eldorado Allen (David Davies/PA)

“I think we’re going to have to run Fiddlerontheroof and The Big Breakaway against each other again in the three-mile novice (Mildmay Novices’ Chase). It seems a shame, but they both deserve to be there and that race suits them both.

“Oscar Elite will go to Aintree as well for the three-mile novice hurdle on the Friday (Sefton Novices’ Hurdle).

“It would be nice to have a winner or two if we can.”

Colin Tizzard to hand over reins to son Joe later this year

Colin Tizzard concedes he is ready to hand the licence at Venn Farm Stables to his son and assistant Joe, a development he expects to happen by the autumn.

The 65-year-old trainer revealed at Wincanton on Thursday that subject to his son passing his training modules there will be a different name on the licence ahead of the start of the 2021/2022 season proper, later in the year.

His admission that Joe deserves to take over in a profession that he said “is a great life, but one in which you are always dealing with expectation as well as disappointments” comes exactly a week before the Tizzards field a twin-pronged challenge on the Gold Cup with Native River and Lostintranslation.

Tizzard, whose appearances on the racecourse have been few and far between during the various lockdowns, explained: “Joe is doing more and more, and deserves to have his name at the top. He deserves to be allowed to go on. He’s more than ready, while I’m 65 and don’t want to wake up every morning to worry.

Colin Tizzard at Wincanton
Colin Tizzard at Wincanton (PA)

“Training’s a hard life in which you deal with expectation and disappointment. I’ve had my time and have a hankering to travel and do things I’ve never been able to do. As long as Covid doesn’t prevent it, I would like to go to see New Zealand.”

Tizzard said he was at the last Cheltenham meeting in December, but has not been racing very much since. He added: “I shall go back there next week and I’m delighted we’re coming through it (Covid) now.

“Our horses are back in good form with three or four winners each week, and they are generally running quite well.

“Native River has won a Gold Cup and finished third and fourth in two others. Half his races have been on good to soft and his form is as good as any. He had a lovely prep at Aintree and went on to the Cotswold Chase, and is the top-rated chaser in England.

“This rain is good to see, but he doesn’t need it heavy, even as old as he is. He won’t sit, he will be putting it up to them and as we know he can blow a good horse away.”

Lostintranslation (left), Native River (centre) and The Big Breakaway at Colin Tizzard's yard
Lostintranslation (left), Native River (centre) and The Big Breakaway at Colin Tizzard’s yard (David Davies/PA)

Tizzard revealed Lostintranslation put in a serious bit of work on Thursday morning to indicate he is back in the game. The 2020 Gold Cup third has looked out of sorts in all three of his races this season at Haydock, Kempton and Newbury.

He said: “He’s really come in his coat, and was great today. In fact he’s had a better run-up to Cheltenham than he did last year. He’s a big, heavy horse that likes good ground and is in the best form he’s been in this season at home.

“As a novice over fences we couldn’t get to the bottom of him, and I think at Newbury (Denman Chase) he used up energy to get there four out. If he can show what he’s showing at home then he’s a contender.”

The stable will almost certainly be double-handed in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase with The Big Breakaway and Fiddlerontheroof.

Tizzard said: “Right now nothing can stay with him (The Big Breakaway) on the gallops. He’s in beautiful form and with a clear round will be very hard to beat. He’s our best chance of a winner at the Festival.”

Tizzard double fuels Festival hopes

A short-priced double in spring-like conditions at Exeter fuelled hopes that Colin Tizzard’s yard is returning to form just in time Cheltenham next week.

Tizzard’s Dorset stable has struggled for much of the season, but smooth victories from Killer Kane and Amarillo Sky – both under Harry Cobden – confirmed the green shoots of recovery which have been in evidence of late.

Killer Kane was sent off 5-6 favourite for the Get Daily Tips At racingtv.com Maiden Hurdle, dominating the final mile to come home five and a half lengths clear from Our Surprise.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard sees the winner as a future chaser, and said: “He’s a lovely big baby who wasn’t doing a lot in front, but quickened up nicely for one tiny smack.

“Everything he does over hurdles is a bonus.”

Cobden added: “He’s very big and raw – and the couple of times I asked him to put in an extra stride, he did. I think he’s going to be a staying type. He wants two and a half now, and will need three miles when he gets a bit older.”

Two of the yard’s highest-profile Festival contenders are WellChild Gold Cup pair Native River and Lostintranslation.

Tizzard gave an upbeat report on both.

He said of 2018 winner Native River: “He came out of his last race (victory in the Cotswold Chase) really well and has enjoyed a little break.

“The rain that’s forecast in the next few days will definitely help him.”

Lostintranslation was third in last year’s Gold Cup but has failed to rediscover that form in three starts this season.

Tizzard said: “Lostintranslation looks a lot fitter than he did at Newbury (a distant fifth in the Denman Chase) and scoped clean after the race.

“We have not given up hope of getting him back to where we were with him on Gold Cup day last year.”

Amarillo Sky could be named the winner of the Every Race Live On Racing TV Handicap Hurdle some way out, as Cobden confidently let the 5-2 favourite go about his business and stretch seven lengths clear of Steady Away.

“I thought his novice hurdle form was OK, and he got stuck in the mud at Huntingdon,” said Tizzard.

“He loved that better ground, and is a beautiful young horse who is at the right end of the handicap.”

Nico de Boinville was successful with his only ride of the day when 6-4 joint-favourite Valsheda won the opening Watch Racing TV In Stunning HD Novices’ Hurdle for Nicky Henderson.

After the combination had come home four lengths clear of Johnny B, De Boinville said: “He’s a big, raw horse with so much potential.

“Doncaster (distant second on debut) was part of the learning curve, and I was keen to get him back upsides Party Fuzz. We’re looking forward to getting him over fences.”

Run To Milan was a popular locally-trained winner, taking control up the straight in the Join Racing TV Now Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

Under Alan Johns, the bottom weight and 4-1 joint-favourite pulled 12 lengths clear of Larkbarrow Lad, and trainer Victor Dartnall said: “He was a good horse until getting injured on his first run over fences at Uttoxeter.

“He’d beaten Lalor in a bumper at Wincanton, and still has few miles on the clock.

“He came back at Fakenham, where he made a mistake and overreached, dragging two shoes off. This ground was perfect, but he wouldn’t want it any quicker than good.”

There was a 40-1 shock in the Watch On Racing TV Handicap Chase when Bonanza Sam made virtually all under conditional Alexander Thorne to beat Writteninthesand by two and a quarter lengths.

Clan Des Obeaux seeks Nicholls’ 10th Denman Chase success

Dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux is the star attraction in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury.

Trainer Paul Nicholls has saddled nine previous winners of Sunday’s Gold Cup trial, with Ditcheat greats Kauto Star (2007) and Denman himself (2008) both claiming victory en route to Cheltenham glory the following month.

Clan Des Obeaux, who won a rescheduled running of the Denman Chase at Ascot two years ago, is not even entered in the Gold Cup this season – with his dislike of Prestbury Park’s undulations well proven at this stage of his career.

The nine-year-old had to make do with minor honours in third when bidding for a hat-trick in the King George at Kempton on his latest appearance, but Nicholls hopes he can open his account for the campaign on a track where he is unbeaten in two starts.

He said: “Clan des Obeaux is in good form and he’s won this race before, when it was restaged two years ago at Ascot.

“There’s this thing that he’s better right-handed, but he’s run very well left-handed and has won at Newbury twice before. A flat track suits him nicely, so we won’t be complaining about that.

“His run at Haydock (when second in the Betfair Chase) was very good, and I think we can improve on Kempton.

“We’re in slightly calmer waters than his previous two at Haydock and Kempton, but this race has been the goal.”

Clan Des Obeaux (right) winning his first King George under Harry Cobden
Clan Des Obeaux (right) winning his first King George under Harry Cobden (Julian Herbert/PA)

Harry Cobden is back on board Clan Des Obeaux for the first time since finishing eighth in last season’s Gold Cup, and is looking forward to renewing the partnership.

“He’s in really good form at home. I schooled him earlier in the week, and he’s been working well,” said the jockey.

“He came out of the King George well and he’s in good form, (so) we’re hoping for a good run.”

Nicholls also runs Secret Investor, who was runner-up to Native River in this race 12 months ago.

Secret Investor joins stablemate Clan Des Obeaux in the Denman Chase
Secret Investor joins stablemate Clan Des Obeaux in the Denman Chase (Jeff Holmes/PA)

He added: “Secret Investor wouldn’t want the ground too soft. He’s a much better horse on spring ground and when he’s fresh.

“With his rating in the early 160s, it makes it hard for him in handicaps, so he’ll run as well.”

Clan Des Obeaux’s biggest threat appears to be the talented but difficult to predict Lostintranslation.

Colin Tizzard’s charge won last season’s Betfair Chase at Haydock before going on to finish a close-up third in the Gold Cup, but has failed to fire both at Haydock and in the King George this season.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard is hoping the combination of a recent wind operation and an upturn in stable form in recent weeks will lead to an improved performance this weekend.

“We had him in the Ascot Chase and the Denman this weekend, and the decision to run at Newbury is purely based on ground,” said Tizzard.

“Had it been nice ground we were actually quite keen on the Ascot race over two-miles-five around there.

“Newbury takes the rain well, and we’ve had a couple of dry-ish days there this week. The ground going to be good to soft/soft, which is what we want for him.

“We’re happy with him going into the race.”

Nicky Henderson’s Champ was due to take on Clan Des Obeaux and Lostintranslation in the Denman Chase last weekend, but the decision to put the meeting back eight days after the original fixture was lost to frost prompted a surprise change of plan.

The JP McManus-owned gelding will instead make his first competitive appearance since his last-gasp victory at last year’s Cheltenham Festival over an extended two miles in the Betfair Game Spirit Chase.

While connections acknowledge the trip is on the short side for a horse viewed as a legitimate Gold Cup contender, the Game Spirit is viewed as a more suitable comeback target – with the blue riband less than four weeks away.

The owner’s racing manager Frank Berry said: “Nicky is happy with him – and rather than give him a slog over three miles, Nicky thought that maybe running over two miles might sharpen his jumping.

“He’s had a few niggly problems that have held him up, but Nicky thinks he’s in good form, so we’ll see how we get on.”

Paul NichoGreaneteen takes on Champ in the Game Spirit lls Stable Visit
Greaneteen takes on Champ in the Game Spirit (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The likely favourite for the Grade Two contest is Nicholls’ Greaneteen, who was last seen filling the runner-up spot behind stable companion Politologue in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December.

“I think there is more to come, and next year he’ll be even better than he is now – he’s going to get better with experience,” said Nicholls.

“He’s in good shape and fit and ready to run very well.

“I don’t want to make the wrong decision and run him in the wrong race at Cheltenham, so this will be a good guide as to how much he’s improved and where we should end up going.”

The Ditcheat handler also runs Dolos and Magic Saint – while Alan King is represented by the high-class Sceau Royal, and Venetia Williams’ Fanion d’Estruval completes the sextet.

Delight for King as Royal Pretender returns to winning ways

Alan King was delighted to see Royal Pretender claim a first career victory on the latest ‘jumpers’ bumper’ card at Kempton on Thursday.

Having shaped with promise on his first two starts over hurdles at Chepstow and Ascot in the autumn, the five-year-old was all the rage to make it third time lucky at Doncaster last month, but was ultimately well beaten in third place.

Switching to an artificial surface for division two of the vbet.co.uk ‘Jumpers’ Bumper’ NH Flat Race, Royal Pretender was an 11-2 chance in the hands of Tom Bellamy and showed a willing attitude to get up and beat Quiana by a neck.

King said: “I’m very happy. He’s been a progressive horse and just got completely stuck in the ground at Doncaster last time. He never travelled at all and was never once on the bridle, so he actually did well to finish third in the end.

“That was much more like it today and he’ll go back hurdling when the ground improves.”

There was a surprise result in division one of the two-and-a-quarter-mile contest, with Colin Tizzard’s 25-1 shot Floy Joy finishing with a flourish under Jonjo O’Neill Jnr to deny 5-2 favourite Dorking Lad by a head.

Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, said: “We’re chuffed to bits with him.

“The horse actually ran all right in a couple of bumpers. He was getting balloted out left, right and centre in novice hurdles and there’s a bit of a backlog in that division.

Floy Joy (right) provided Colin Tizzard with another winner
Floy Joy (right) provided Colin Tizzard with another winner (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We were keen to give him a run, so we let him take his chance today and it worked out lovely.

“I wouldn’t say I thought he’d win, but I thought he’d be competitive.”

The victory continues the recent revival in of the Tizzard team’s fortunes following a difficult winter.

“As I said over the weekend and last week, we think we’ve got the horses back right, but the proof is in the pudding,” Tizzard added.

“It’s lovely that they’re all going and running well. Hopefully we can keep going strong until the end of the season now.”

The Warren Greatrex-trained Young Lieutenant (20-1) was an authoritative winner of the Download The VBet App ‘Jumpers’ Bumper’ NH Flat Race, with Gavin Sheehan the winning rider.

“We were waiting to go chasing with him, but a few meetings were off and we said we’d go back hurdling once the ground gets a bit better and maybe go chasing from May onwards,” said Greatrex.

“We thought this race today was a nice opportunity to get him out and it’s great he’s won again – that’s two from three this season now.

“He’s not the easiest to train as he hasn’t got the best feet and has had wind issues, but when he’s on-song he’s a fair horse.”

Elsewhere on the card Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden teamed up to land the Play Golden Shot At VBet Mares’ ‘Jumpers’ Bumper’ NH Flat Race with Tomorrow Mystery (4-1).

Gold Cup prep options open for Lostintranslation

Lostintranslation is likely to run at either Newbury or Ascot ahead of a second tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Third behind Al Boum Photo in last year’s renewal of the blue riband, Colin Tizzard’s charge has disappointed in two starts this season – finishing a well-beaten third in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, before being pulled up in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

With the Tizzard string showing signs of a revival, highlighted by the success of 2018 Gold Cup hero Native River at Sandown last weekend, hopes were high Lostintranslation could get back on track in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday – before it was rescheduled on Sunday February 21.

Joe Tizzard with Gold Cup contender Lostintranslation
Joe Tizzard with Gold Cup contender Lostintranslation (David Davies/PA)

The high-profile meeting’s new slot was confirmed after a Friday morning inspection which found the ground frozen – and Lostintranslation could still make an appearance next Sunday, although the previous afternoon’s Betfair Ascot Chase is viewed as a viable alternative.

Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, said on Thursday: “He’s in at Newbury and he’s also got an entry at Ascot, so he’ll run in one of them.

“We think he’s in quite good form and we’d quite like to get a run in before Cheltenham.

“He’ll go to Ascot or Newbury next weekend, one of the two.”

Native River sparks more Gold Cup dreams for Broom

Native River’s owner Garth Broom is dreaming of Cheltenham glory once more after his veteran chaser teed up another crack at the Magners Gold Cup with his doughty weekend display at Sandown.

The 11-year-old won the rearranged Cotswold Chase on Saturday, beating genuine top-notchers Bristol De Mai and Santini in the process.

Native River won the blue riband in 2018, so Broom has experienced the feeling of Gold Cup glory already- and has been touched by the reaction to his pride and joy’s latest victory.

“It was better than we could hope for, how he did it,” he said.

“Staying chasers get such a following, and I’ve been told there was quite a reaction on social media. It’s fantastic.

“I thought he was the forgotten horse going into the race – the only problem was I only have a bet whenever I’m on course, so I didn’t back him!”

Like everyone else, Broom was watching from home with his wife, Anne, and he had far more confidence about his chance than many – who cited the form of the Colin Tizzard yard and the fact it was on a right-handed track as big negatives for Native River.

“I knew he was in good form, because Colin had sent a video of him on the gallops where he looked brilliant, said Broom.

“The only doubt was the stable form, so it was a relief they had a winner earlier in the week.

Bristol De Mai could not catch Native River who pulled away in the straight
Bristol De Mai could not catch Native River, who pulled away in the straight (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Some had said he’s not at his best going right-handed, but the only place he doesn’t really like is Kempton – and he was still third in a King George there.

“The only time he’s been out of the first three over fences, he was fourth in a Gold Cup beaten less than 10 lengths – and at that time, there was a question mark over the stable form too.

“When you look back at his CV, it’s incredible. He won the Welsh National and the Hennessy four years ago – and he’s still at the top of his game.”

With fellow front runner Yala Enki and Bryony Frost taking him on for the first circuit, Native River also showed he does not always have to make the running.

“Richard (Johnson) said he didn’t want to take Bryony on early, but turning down the back straight the second time he didn’t ask him. He (Native River) was saying ‘come on, let’s get going’ – he did it all himself,” said Broom.

“After the first circuit and I saw him in that rhythm, he takes a bit of beating.”

With such a wet winter and Cheltenham losing their last two meetings to waterlogging, good ground could be a long shot, which will also aid Native River’s chances.

“I wouldn’t have thought the going would be good at Cheltenham, looking at the weather,” added Broom.

“He can actually handle good, but we just have to mind his legs now. He did a suspensory after Newbury last year – and I really fancied him for the Gold Cup then, too.

“Looking at the Gold Cup, you obviously have Al Boum Photo to beat, but I think Venetia Williams’ horse (Royale Pagaille) is the dark one. Any young horse who keeps winning and is clearly improving is always going to be a threat – if he runs of course.

“What I will say is that looking at Monkfish and Envoi Allen, next year’s Gold Cup looks very tough already!

“We’ve not got many miles on the clock, though. He might be 11, but we’ve always minded him because when they are running over three miles and more in heavy ground, they have hard races.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be there. We’ve had our first (Covid) jabs, but the second one won’t come in time. I suffer from bad asthma and decided not to go last year.

“It’s heart-breaking not being there. It was on Saturday, but it’s a sign of the times I’m afraid.

“Tom Malone buys most of our horses – and I keep saying to him if he finds me another half as good as Native River, I’ll be very happy.”

Native River rolls back years for emphatic Cotswold win

Native River put himself back in the reckoning to regain his Cheltenham Gold Cup title with an authoritative victory in the Virgin Bet Cotswold Chase at Sandown Park

Rescheduled following the abandonment of Cheltenham’s Trials Day last weekend, this three-mile Grade Two is a recognised Gold Cup trial – although the last to win both races in the same season was Looks Like Trouble in 2000.

This time, it was run in desperately testing conditions – much to the liking of Colin Tizzard’s 2018 Gold Cup hero, who put in a typically assured round of jumping and raced prominently throughout under Richard Johnson to win at 13-2, by nine and a half lengths from Bristol De Mai.

Native River led at the first of the Railway fences on the final circuit – but Bristol De Mai, sent off as 9-4 favourite, was far from done with yet.

Tizzard’s 11-year-old, a close-up third to Lake View Lad in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree when last seen in December, had helped to set a relentless gallop and had a length to spare at the Pond Fence as the mud-loving Yala Enki began to tire.

Bristol De Mai, regarded by some as a Haydock specialist – much to the annoyance of his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies – loomed large turning in.

But a fine leap at the last saw Native River stride clear, and he went further away up the hill to score with plenty to spare.

Santini stuck to the task, but was a further seven and a half lengths back in third.

Native River’s 14th career success confirmed a return to form for the Tizzard yard – out of sorts for much of the season, but back with a winner at Wincanton on Thursday.

Johnson said: “He’s a good boy, and he suits me. He felt really well, and felt really well at Aintree. The one thing he loves is his jumping.

“A hard slog around here is right up his street. He hasn’t lost any of his enthusiasm, that’s for sure.

“He jumped the Railway fences really well and again got into a nice rhythm – and we know he stays really well and he handles the conditions. It was a fantastic effort.”

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He’s as tough as they come and he’s never lost his enthusiasm.

“He had really come to himself the last couple of weeks – and as he has got older, he has perhaps lost half a gear, so the ground probably helps him.

“He’s won a Welsh National and stays particularly strongly, so when he gets his conditions he takes a bit of pegging back.”

Native River has run just seven times since his Gold Cup win, but has remained very consistent at the highest level nonetheless.

“This means a lot,” Tizzard added.

“He’s our main flag-bearer and he’s done nothing wrong in the last five years – he just keeps producing.

“He is a lovely chap in the stable, and the Gold Cup has always been the plan. This was the prep run for it.”

Santini, winner of this race last year and then runner-up in the Gold Cup, was beaten in his first two runs this season – including when fifth in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

He finished adrift here too, but trainer Nicky Henderson nonetheless remains optimistic he will line up in again in the Gold Cup.

Santini had to settle for third but is still on course to bid for the Cheltenham Gold Cup again next month
Santini had to settle for third but is still on course to bid for the Cheltenham Gold Cup again next month (Julian Herbert/PA)

He said: “We ummed and ahhed about going to run at Cheltenham (last weekend) before it was called off.

“But you have to ensure you get a run into them. We wanted to get a run into (Champion Hurdle hope) Buveur D’Air (before his defeat) at Haydock – because now all his possible alternatives have gone, like the (abandoned) Contenders Hurdle, which is what I was waiting for.

“(But) at least if you are going to run in unsuitable conditions, and you are going to get harder races than you would have liked, the more time you give yourself between now and then (Cheltenham), the better things will be.

“That horse (Santini) will take anything.

“From the second-last, Aidan (Coleman) wasn’t going to get to the front and he wasn’t going to get caught from behind, so the good thing was he was allowed to come home in his own time.

“I’d be happy. He made one mistake, when he just didn’t come out of the ground.

“I’m pleased we’ve done it, now it is over. He will just go to the Gold Cup. He loves Cheltenham – it is what he has been aimed at all year.”

Lostintranslation back ‘in good nick’ for Gold Cup prep run

Lostintranslation is back in full health and on course for another run before bidding again to win the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.

Colin Tizzard’s nine-year-old was third in the Festival showpiece last season but has run poorly in his two appearances this term, and was found to have burst a blood vessel when pulled up in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

Tizzard’s son and assistant Joe reports, however, that the dual Grade One winner has recovered well and will run this month – either in Newbury’s Denman Chase or the Ascot Chase.

Speaking after the yard’s first winner since December, in the opening race at Wincanton, Tizzard said: “In the last couple of weeks the horses have been performing to their standard without winning, so it’s nice to get one on the board with Rose Of Arcadia today.”

Lostintranslation is among a number of horses who have performed below expectations for the yard this season.

Tizzard added: “We found a couple of things wrong with them – something that was going round in the air, and their mineral levels weren’t quite right – but I do think we are heading in the right direction.

“Hopefully, this is the start of better things for us.

“Lostintranslation had a little bleed in the King George but is in good nick now. He will go for the Denman Chase, all being well – and if we think the ground isn’t suitable, then we would wait for the trial at Ascot.”

Native River, hero of the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup, will run in Saturday’s rescheduled Cotswold Chase at Sandown – while The Big Breakaway will be in action the same day in Wetherby’s William Hill Towton Novices’ Chase, as long as that race is given the go-ahead after an inspection of the course on Friday morning.

“Native River is all set for Sandown,” said Tizzard.

“He’s in lovely form, and I don’t see why the track won’t suit him.

“It’s fantastic that we’re looking at running because Newbury (the Denman Chase) would have been closer to the Gold Cup than ideal.

“The Big Breakaway has, I feel, learned a lot from his run at Kempton (second in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase) and has come out of it well.

The Big Breakaway won on his chasing debut at Cheltenham in November
The Big Breakaway won on his chasing debut at Cheltenham in November (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He certainly had to show he could jump, and we’ve declared him for Wetherby on Saturday.”

Should Wetherby’s chases fall to the weather, however, the Tizzards have a contingency in place.

“In that case, he would divert to the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot in two weeks,” he added.

“We would like to give him another (run) ahead of the Festival.”

Native River ready for Cotswold challenge

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.

Native River came out on top in a great battle with Might Bite for the 2018 Gold Cup
Native River came out on top in a great battle with Might Bite for the 2018 Gold Cup (Nigel French/PA)

“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.”

This weekend’s race has attracted another multiple Grade One winner in Bristol De Mai and last year’s Gold Cup second Santini – although his participation is not assured – as well as Aintree winner Lake View Lad.

“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!” said Broom.

“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.”

Every year a debate about the Grand National is brought up between connections, but this year more than ever Broom and his wife Anne seem against it.

“We’re not really National people – I wouldn’t advise people putting any money ante-post on him,” he said.

“I don’t even know if we’ll enter him. We find there’s too many horses, it’s a lottery – and usually it’s not his ground in April.

“If our aim was to win the Grand National then fair enough, but ours isn’t. If you were to think with your head then he’s made for it – but we tend to think with our hearts!

“He doesn’t owe us anything, he’s been absolutely brilliant. If the ground was right the (Aintree) Bowl might be more on the agenda, but it depends how he runs on Saturday and in the Gold Cup. If he has a hard race there then we wouldn’t ask him to go to Aintree.”

Arguably his biggest barrier to success could be the form of the Tizzard yard, who are without a winner this month – but Broom is partly to blame for that.

“There have been signs of improvement from the yard – he’s had a few seconds and third,” said Broom.

“He (Tizzard) was actually second to one of our horses at Wincanton, Brinkley – which didn’t go down well!”

Henderson happy to take King George chance with Santini

Santini will seek to justify an entry that initially “wasn’t the plan at all” when he takes his place in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up was not considered for the Boxing Day highlight originally, and Nicky Henderson still has his doubts about whether three miles at Kempton Park will see his stout stayer to best effect.

However, such is Santini’s appetite for the game, Henderson feels he is ultimately best served by having a tilt at King George glory before bidding for back-to-back victories in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in late January.

The Seven Barrows trainer said: “We were monitoring the entries, we knew what they all were and we knew there wouldn’t be a million runners. We’ve got to finish fifth to cover the supplementary fee (£5,000).

“We’ve got to be positive and he’s in very good form, so we’re up for it. Richard Kelvin-Hughes (owner) is a sportsman.”

Santini had to settle for second spot behind Lake View Lad in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree earlier this month, a Grade Two contest in which nine fences were omitted due to low sun.

Henderson said: “Aintree wasn’t really a satisfactory race – if I wanted to run him in a bending race, I’d have sent him to the gymkhana!

“He did run a very good race, though. Last year he began in a graduation race at Sandown and was desperately unimpressive, but he wakes up for racing – you can’t work him enough.

“If we had to wait another month to run it would have been so boring for him. I hope he’ll be sharper than he was at Aintree, but my worry is the track, it’s not a big, galloping track for a big, galloping horse.

“It wasn’t the plan at all, but it’s something to do before the Cotswold Chase. The more you throw at him the better he is, and within two days he’ll be bucking and squealing again.”

The Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation was well fancied for last year’s King George off the back of winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock, but never really travelled with much zest and was eventually pulled up by Robbie Power.

Lostintranslation is a top-class performer on his day
Lostintranslation is a top-class performer on his day (Anthony Devlin/PA)

He bounced back to his best to finish third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – but again has something to prove on his return to Kempton after finishing tailed off in heavy ground at Haydock last month.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “We are quite happy with where he is and he is ready to run.

“The only thing that came out of Haydock was that it was really heavy ground and though he is a big horse, Robbie mentioned he has always been a horse better on better ground.

“There is a bit of rain due to go through Kempton, but the ground won’t be like it was at Haydock. The horse has schooled well since then and he is in good form and we are looking forward to running him.

“He has got some good horses to take on that have been in really good form, but he was only beaten a length and a half in the Gold Cup and he looked like he was travelling the best for a long way, so we know he is a very good horse.”

Waiting Patiently (right) returns from a lengthy absence
Waiting Patiently (right) returns from a lengthy absence (Julian Herbert/PA)

Waiting Patiently is an interesting contender for Ruth Jefferson as he makes his first competitive appearance since finishing a close-up third in the Tingle Creek at Sandown 12 months ago.

The Flemensfirth gelding has only tackled three miles once before, when unseating Brian Hughes in the 2018 King George.

Jefferson said: “We took him for an away-day because he hasn’t run for a little while and he seems to have come out of that well. We weren’t desperate to get a run in as he’s not a stuffy horse, and he doesn’t want a lot of racing, so we could have given him a prep run and that could have been it for the season!

“The horse is fine and the ground is fine. As far as the distance is concerned, who knows? We hope this will tell us a lot, although last time we tried three miles we learnt nothing.

“If we didn’t have a go we’d always be wondering, so we’ll try it and see how we go.”

Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados was last seen pushing Min all the way in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, having missed an intended prep run for the King George after suffering a setback.

“He is good fresh and we have done plenty of work with him at home. He was ready for the Betfair Chase, but he picked up that infection,” said Whittington.

“A King George first time out is not ideal, but with his rating (167), where else do we go?

“He is ticking all the boxes at home, so we will roll the dice.”

Black Op is no back number in the King George, according to his trainer Tom George
Black Op is no back number in the King George, according to his trainer Tom George (Simon Cooper/PA)

Black Op completes the nine-strong field – and his trainer Tom George suggests he is no forlorn hope.

“On face value you’d probably say he was up against it, but he’s run against some of these horses before and run well against them,” the Stroud handler told Sky Sports Racing.

“In the Hennessy (Ladbrokes Trophy), he didn’t quite see out the trip. He’s a Grade One winner over hurdles. He definitely warrants taking his chance and we came close to causing an upset with Double Shuffle a couple of years ago.

“He’s in good form, he’s a high-class horse. He wasn’t beaten far in the Grade One novice chase there last Christmas.

“He liked the track that day and is ready for a good run.”

Mister Malarky provides timely boost for Tizzard

Mister Malarky provided the Colin Tizzard yard with a much-needed pre-Christmas tonic when returning to winning ways in the Good Luck Hollie In SPOTY Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot.

Winners have not been flowing with their usual fluency from the stable in the first half of the season – which must have been hard to fathom, given their understandable optimism as the campaign began.

Mister Malarky had shown little since winning a valuable handicap at Kempton in February, but he has always had plenty of ability.

To the fore throughout under Harry Cobden, with retained rider Robbie Power in action at Haydock, he barely put a foot wrong.

When joined late on by The Conditional and Ascot specialist Regal Encore, Mister Malarky (16-1)  pulled out more to score by a length and three-quarters from David Bridgwater’s Cheltenham Festival winner.

Cobden told ITV Racing: “Things haven’t quite been going right for them (the Tizzard stable) in the early part of this year, but this lad has gone and won.

“I’ve had plenty of success for them in the past. But of late Robbie (Power) has been riding them, so to win on this lad today is great.

“He’s enjoyed it, travelled well and jumped great. He was looking about on the run-in today – but when The Conditional joined him he went again, so I’m delighted.

“I’d ride him in the National – he wouldn’t touch a twig.”

Betfair introduced the seven-year-old at 40-1 in their ante-post market for Aintree.

Thistlecrack poised to return in Long Walk Hurdle

Thistlecrack is likely to try to bridge a five-year gap and win the Porsche Long Walk Hurdle for a second time at Ascot on Saturday.

It was back in 2015 when Colin Tizzard’s highly-talented performer took the Group One staying prize, denying Reve De Sivola a fourth consecutive win in the race.

Thistlecrack went on to land the World Hurdle that season before switching to chasing and winning the King George at Kempton at Christmas 2016.

He has had his problems since then and his last race came over the smaller obstacles in the 2019 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury. where he was only beaten a length by Paisley Park.

That was a year ago and Tizzard reports the 12-year-old to be in rude health and ready to return the fray.

“He had a racecourse gallop last week. He’s in cracking form so, as long as all goes right this week, we’ll have a go,” said the Dorset handler.

“He didn’t start racing until he was seven so he’s not an old man in that respect. We’ll give him a run and see where we are.

“He’s had an away day and he’s done a lot of work. Hopefully by the end of the week we’ll get all the green lights and we can go.”

Paisley Park is also among a list of 14 confirmed for the Long Walk at the five-day stage.

Emma Lavelle’s class performer took this Grade One prize in 2018 on the way to winning the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham the following March.

Disappointing in last season’s Stayers’ Hurdle, Paisley Park made an encouraging comeback when second to Thyme Hill in this year’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last month.

Thyme Hill got the better of Paisley Park at Newbury last month
Thyme Hill got the better of Paisley Park at Newbury last month (Nigel French/PA)

The Philip Hobbs-trained six-year-old is among his potential opposition along with a three previous winner of this race, The Worlds End (2019). He took advantage of Paisley Park’s late withdrawal due to the heavy ground.

Dan Skelton has targeted this race for Roksana since her victory in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby.

“I was delighted with her at Wetherby,” said the Alcester handler.

“She went back to her owners for a little while just to recharge her batteries really so she could come back the best she could be.

“I’m really happy with her and she looks fantastic. The lad who rides her out every day says she feels as good as she could.

“We are going to take on the front two from Newbury which is the next level. They have got to give seven pounds to her and over three miles in what is likely to be soft ground that will be telling.

“I never had any intention of going to Newbury. The plan was always to go to Wetherby then to Ascot. It is going to be a good race.”

Gordon Elliott’s Sire Du Berlais and the Ronan McNally-trained The Jam Man are the two Irish-trained possibles, while David Pipe could take the plunge with the prolific Main Fact, winner of his last nine races.

Completing the list are Lil Rockerfeller, Portrush Ted, Third Wind, Thomas Darby and Younevercall.

Kildisart also holds an entry in the Ascot Silver Cup Handicap Chase on the same card.

Stylish win for Striking A Pose

Striking A Pose is expected to go on to bigger and better things after initiating a Wincanton double for Colin Tizzard and Robbie Power.

Bought for £95,000 after impressing on his sole start in the point-to-point field, Striking A Pose had finished third on his first two starts over hurdles at Newton Abbot and Ascot in October.

Despite carrying the welter burden of 12 stone in the Racing TV Profits Returned To Racing ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, the four-year-old cruised clear of his rivals – passing the post eight and half lengths clear of Hugos Other Horse to win at 10-1.

“Striking A Pose is a lovely horse who just needed the experience on his first couple of runs,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father.

“I think the step up in trip suited him, and he’s done it nicely today.

“Hopefully there’s more to come from him.”

Tizzard and Power were soon on the mark again, with Darlac also proving much too good for his rivals in the Weatherbys Racing Bank Silver Buck Handicap Chase.

Darlac jumps the final fence clear of his rivals
Darlac jumps the final fence clear of his rivals (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The 7-2 chance fell on a couple of occasions last season, and again came to grief on his first start of the current campaign at Newton Abbot in September.

However, after filling the runner-up spot twice since, the Lucarno gelding went one better in some style – with an impressive round of jumping helping him seal a seven-and-a-half-length verdict over Forgot To Ask.

Tizzard added: “We ran Darlac in a beginners chase last time, because he’s had three falls over fences. That last run helped him regain his confidence – and today he bore the fruit of that, because he jumped super and won it like he could.

“He’s a horse with a bit of ability, as he proved in novice hurdles a couple of years ago.”

Global Harmony (3-1) opened her account for brothers Dan and Harry Skelton in the Watch Racing TV In Stunning HD Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

The daughter of Flemensfirth was not winning out of turn, having been placed in four of her previous six starts.

Dan Skelton said: “She’s been running well in defeat, and I actually had a little hold-up with her after her first run of the season at Perth in September.

“Her last run at Warwick was another good run after what was almost a bit of a lay-off, so I thought she’d go very well today.

“She was the highest-rated horse in the race, and I thought off her mark she’d take a bit of beating anyway – I didn’t think we had to improve a great deal to win.”

Charlie Case steering Kilbrew Boy (green) to victory
Charlie Case steering Kilbrew Boy (green) to victory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Kilbrew Boy justified 6-5 favouritism in the Visit racingtv.com Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase for the father-and-son combination of Ben and Charlie Case.

Victor Dartnall’s River Bray landed the Use The racingtv.com Tracker Handicap Hurdle under Tom Scudamore, before conditional jockey Bryan Carver steered Robert Walford’s Ede’iffs Elton (11-2 favourite) home in front in the Weatherbys Racing Bank Foreign Exchange Handicap Chase.

The concluding junior bumper went to Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 4-6 favourite I Like To Move It, ridden by Jordan Nailor.

Following up his debut win at Aintree last month, the three-year-old easily conceded weight all round and was more than eight lengths too good for market rival Mondora in second.