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Tiger returns to Aintree in Betway Bowl

Tiger Roll returns to Aintree on Thursday – two days earlier than many would initially have expected.

Much has been written and said about the decision of owners Gigginstown House Stud to miss Saturday’s Randox Grand National with their equine great – but he certainly adds a layer of intrigue to the Betway Bowl.

Gigginstown’s gripe with the handicapper was the fact that the dual Grand National winner had the rating of a Grade One horse – and he is about to get the chance to prove who is right.

Tiger Roll is in the care of Denise Foster, and the current incumbent at Cullentra House Stables said: “He’s 11 years old, and it will be a big ask for him. Really we’re just hoping for a nice run from him.

“We can’t be too confident – I am wary of the fact that he is 11. That’s really all you can say about him.

“He left here in good form, and we’ll just have to see what happens. It’s all a bit of a question mark.”

With Davy Russell still sidelined by injury, Jack Kennedy comes in for the mount.

Another popular 11-year-old is lining up in opposition, in the shape of Colin Tizzard’s 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River.

He does so, though, without the aid of his old ally Richard Johnson – who retired on Saturday. The four-time champion jumps jockey has been replaced by Jonjo O’Neill jnr, who won the Denman Chase on Tizzard’s stable star last season.

Native River has a good record on the Mildmay course
Native River has a good record on the Mildmay course (David Davies/PA)

Native River finished fourth, best of the British, in the Gold Cup last month.

“It’s strange going into a race without Richard – but Jonjo has won on him, so that helps a bit,” said owner Garth Broom.

“We had been dithering a bit about the ground – and while it won’t be ideal, hopefully it will be safe, and on Thursday’s it’s likely to be at its softest.

“It’s quite an open race. On faster ground we wouldn’t have run. He can handle good ground – he won the Denman on it a couple of years ago when unfortunately he picked up a suspensory problem. The thing about the soft ground is that it slows the others down, while he just goes the same speed.

“We’re hoping for a good run from him. He was a bit tired for a week after the Gold Cup – but he’s recovered now, and they say he’s as good as ever, so we’ll hope for the best.

“He’s never been over-raced. This will be just his fourth run of the season, and he’s got a good record at the Mildmay Course.

“He’s never been over-raced, this will be just his fourth run of the season and he’s got a good record at the Mildmay Course.”

It seemed hard work for Native River at Cheltenham. A habitual front-runner usually, he could never get to the front at any stage.

“At Cheltenham, the last twice he has run in the Gold Cup he hasn’t gone with his usual enthusiasm,” added Broome.

“I’m wondering if he’s remembering the hard race he had there when he won it.

“The main thing is that he comes back safe. I think we should get one more year out of him – but the first time he shows he’s not enjoying it, we’ll be thinking of retirement.”

Paul Nicholls skipped the Gold Cup with dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux, in preference for this race, but he has been fitted with first-time cheekpieces after he surprisingly failed to beat stablemate Secret Investor at Newbury.

“He ran very well last time at Newbury when just failing to give 6lb to Secret Investor, who picked up an injury and may not run again until Christmas,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“We felt after Newbury that fitting cheekpieces might help Clan’s concentration, and they seemed to sharpen him up when he worked in them on Saturday.

“He’s in good shape, and if the cheekpieces do the trick then he has an obvious chance.”

Nicholls also runs Real Steel, not seen since pulling up in the King George.

“He hasn’t been the easiest to train but was showing something last time when he travelled well in the King George on Boxing Day until stopping quickly turning into the straight,” said Nicholls.

“It transpired he had bled, so this is a bit of a recovery mission, but we’ve freshened him up and are hoping for better from him.”

Clondaw Castle clears the last before winning well at Kempton
Clondaw Castle clears the last before winning well at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Clondaw Castle steps up in grade for Tom George, having won a Kempton handicap last time – which his trainer previously used as a springboard to success here for Nacarat.

“He steps up into Grade One company for the first time. He’s had a good season – he’s up to a mark of 160,” said George.

“I think he’s ready for the next step. He’s improved again for the step up in distance.

“He won the old Racing Post Chase at Kempton off a big weight – the same we did with Nacarat 10 years ago. Let’s hope we can follow in his footsteps.”

Nicky Henderson also steps Mister Fisher up in trip. He was in the process of running a good race in the Ryanair, but two bad mistakes eventually meant he was pulled up.

“It is rather unfair that he comes here off the back of the formbook saying he was pulled up in the Ryanair – he ran a really good race,” said Henderson.

“Coming down the hill Allaho and Min were going flat to the boards, and Mister Fisher was literally on their tails and looked like finishing third, but he’d been flat out for a long way and did get tired. Nico (de Boinville) quite rightly looked after him.

“If he stays three miles, which I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t, it will tell us where we’re going next season.”

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.”

Festival ambition still burning bright for Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson has already won all of the main events at the Cheltenham Festival at least once – but he is approaching this year’s meeting with as much vim and vigour as ever.

The former champion jockey has been riding at racing’s showpiece fixture since the days when he was able to claim 7lb back in 1995.

His first victory came four years later, on Anzum in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and since then he has won the Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles, the Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster and the Gold Cup twice, first with Looks Like Trouble and more recently through Native River.

It is the latter who is spearheading a select team Johnson is looking forward to next week, following a display at Sandown which warmed the hearts of many National Hunt followers.

“Anyone that likes sport and racing in general, they love seeing someone at the top of their game for five or six seasons. Sandown really gave me the confidence that he can go to the Gold Cup with a fantastic chance,” said Johnson.

“I saw Joe Tizzard (son of trainer Colin) on Wednesday and we joked we hoped it could rain until next Saturday! As long as the ground is on the slower side I think he goes with a huge chance.

“He’s beaten all the ones in England and is the best of the English for me, I wouldn’t swap him for another.

“Obviously Al Boum Photo is the one to beat and we don’t know how good Champ is, but they’ll have to put a good performance in to beat Native River.”

It seems the 43-year-old is persistently fending off questions as to whether his own career might be coming to an end – but just like Native River, there is no sign of him stopping any time soon.

“Sandown showed he’s lost none of his enthusiasm and I certainly haven’t lost any of mine,” he said on a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“I love doing this. When I started it was a dream to be a jockey, let along be any good at it. To be rocking up at my 26th Festival, most don’t do that as a spectator so I’m very lucky.

“If anything I’m more excited this year than the first. I’m very lucky, usually I’m going there with a good book of rides. It doesn’t guarantee a winner, but I’ve got half a dozen very strong rides this year, I think.

“When I was just starting out my first ride was 50-1, Strong Beau in the Kim Muir (1995) for David Nicholson when realistically if he got round it was a bonus.”

The shortest priced of Johnson’s mounts next week will be the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill, who will meat former winner Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle for a third time this season – with the score currently level.

Thyme Hill (left) seemed to have the measure of Paisley Park only for him to fly close home
Thyme Hill (left) seemed to have the measure of Paisley Park only for him to fly close home (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I think the slightly better ground might just help us and he’s only had six runs over hurdles, so I’d hope he is still improving. It’s far from a two-horse race, though Paisley Park is the obvious one to beat,” said Johnson.

“When you get beaten like at Ascot you always think what you could have done it differently, but at the same time I was really pleased as he travelled sweetly and jumped well. For a horse without much experience he’s really matured this year and that is what gives me confidence going to Cheltenham that we can get a different result.

“He’s got the right profile and I still think there is more to come. The ground might be a bit more in our favour and going to Cheltenham horses like Thyme Hill are the ones you want to be on. I can see him winning the Stayers’ Hurdle.”

The Hobbs-trained Zanza in the Grand Annual and a fine spare picked up on Aye Right in the Ultima Handicap Chase due to the suspension of Callum Bewley supplement Johnson’s hand nicely.

Sporting John is another Grade One-winner he can look forward to, but whether he takes on Envoi Allen in the Marsh or Monkfish in the Brown Advisory has still to be decided. Either way he will come up against a rival who has so far looked the real deal.

“I think it will depend on what the ground is like as to where he ends up, but unfortunately neither race is an easy option. We have to take on either Envoi Allen or Monkfish who are both hot favourites,” said Johnson.

“Whichever race he runs in I’d like to think he’ll be in the mix. We always hear this or that can’t be beaten at Cheltenham, but we all know differently as not all the favourites win.

“Both Envoi Allen and Monkfish have already won at Cheltenham, but they’ve still got to turn up and produce on the day. I wouldn’t put anybody off him whichever race he runs in. He’s already a Grade One winner and is very good, you should never shy away from one.”

For a man who has won it all it is difficult to pick out just one favourite when his highlight reel could run for hours – but his victory on the popular Rooster Booster in the 2003 Champion Hurdle is certainly one that springs to mind.

Rooster Booster gained a huge army of followers
Rooster Booster gained a huge army of followers (David Davies/PA)

“It’s hard to pick a favourite, but Rooster came along very early in my association with Philip, maybe only three or four years into the partnership,” he said.

“He gave 110 per cent every time. The year he won the Champion Hurdle, they went very fast early and it all just seemed to happen for him. He was still running away with me coming to the second-last, which shouldn’t happen in a Champion Hurdle.

“That day he was absolutely awesome so he figures very high in my memories.”

He added: “Looks Like Trouble is out in the stable here, he’s 29 now. He was a huge part of my career. I’d won the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1999 on Anzum for the Duke (David Nicholson) which got me going, but to ride the Gold Cup winner in 2000 was a huge reason why I started getting very good horses to ride in the top tier.

“He’s special so to have him as a family pet is great. We have Menorah (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner of 2010), too. The children have ridden both of them.”

If Johnson has one regret this year it is that he will not be retaining the jockeys’ championship he lost to Brian Hughes last season having won the previous four upon the retirement of Sir Anthony McCoy.

“I’m disappointed and frustrated not to be involved. Brian is involved again and the great thing for him is he rides for loads of different trainers which coming up to the end of the season is crucial,” said Johnson.

“But the two Harrys (Skelton and Cobden) have two huge stables and unbelievable firepower behind them. It will be a very busy six weeks for them all and will probably come down to the last week.

“I don’t know how many I’ve got left in me, someone asked me this the other day and that becomes a worry when they keep asking the same question!

“I’ve never really had a weight problem luckily, unlike AP (McCoy) or Mick Fitzgerald. I’m loving what I do and when you ride for Philip Hobbs it makes things enjoyable.

“I’m thinking if Thyme Hill goes over fences next year he could be in the Gold Cup in a couple of years, so there’s always reasons to look to the future.”

‘Warrior’ Native River leading Gold Cup charge for Team Tizzard

Joe Tizzard is banking on stable stalwart Native River to do him and his father Colin proud again in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Assistant trainer Tizzard is full of hope too that the yard’s Lostintranslation can bounce back to form and outrun big odds in the Festival showpiece.

Native River, who emerged from a titanic battle with Might Bite to win the great race in 2018, is less than half the price of his stablemate in the current ante-post lists.

Native River on the gallops at Colin Tizzard's Dorset yard
Native River on the gallops at Colin Tizzard’s Dorset yard (David Davies/PA)

But Tizzard struggles to choose between them, and points out only when he knows ground conditions for sure on March 19 may he be able to do so with any conviction.

Although Native River, fourth in his Gold Cup defence two years ago and ruled out by injury 12 months ago, would relish a return to the mud which has prevailed for so much of this winter, Lostintranslation’s chances could hinge on an extended dry spell.

Assessing hopes of Native River regaining his title at the age of 11, Tizzard said: “I think the horse is performing every bit as well as when he won a Gold Cup.

“I think he’s just a bit more ground dependent at this stage. Nowadays, he would need a bit of soft ground – just because otherwise, everything would be perhaps too quick for him.

“With the soft ground, he can just maintain that gallop.”

Native River proved his ability is intact with a trademark front-running victory in the rerouted Cotswold Chase at Sandown last month, while Lostintranslation has been well below form this season, since finishing a close third as Al Boum Photo won his second successive Gold Cup last March.

Tizzard is not about to second-guess the unpredictable spring weather.

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

He said: “It is (drying up). But who knows? We’re still far enough away – it wouldn’t take a lot to put it back. It was waterlogged 10 days ago.

“Native River is going in there with the best form (of all our Festival horses).

“He will run his race – that’s the thing. Native River just doesn’t run a bad race, so he will go there and perform.

“He’s not slow – he just maintains that gallop for three-and-a-quarter miles. He’s just a warrior – and if he’s got a chance, still close enough at the bottom of the hill, he’ll be doing his best work up it.”

His younger stablemate is an entirely different case.

“Lostintranslation has got questions to answer,” added Tizzard.

“But if it’s good to soft, then I certainly wouldn’t be writing him off.

“Absolutely, Lostintranslation could (outrun his odds).

“The reason he’s that price is because of this season’s performances. He wasn’t that price after being beaten two lengths in it last year.

“We can now push him hard for 10 days, a fortnight, to make sure he’s match ready.”

Tizzard knows Native River will be ready, having given the yard a much-needed lift at Sandown after a tough winter in which their horses have been out of form.

“They say the best horses always get you out of a bit of a pickle, and he was a winner we’d been waiting for,” he said.

“He’s been absolutely bombproof for a couple of years. It’s gone under the radar a little bit, but he did nothing wrong last year – two from two, then just slightly tweaked a tendon in the Denman Chase.

“He’s the highest-rated chaser in England at the moment, and deserves to be so.

Colin Tizzard Stable Visit
Joe Tizzard retains faith in Lostintranslation (David Davies/PA)

“The main thing, for the two or three days after (Sandown), we were feeling his legs every day of the week. But they’re absolutely fine – there’s no sign of anything.

“There’s horses he’s taken on over the last few years that haven’t bounced back from meeting Native River – I think that’s testament to the horse.

“His worst placing, in 20 runs over fences, is fourth – which was in a Gold Cup. That just shows how good a horse he is.”

Lostintranslation has failed to produce a telling effort at the finish in four of his last five races.

Tizzard said: “It hasn’t been straightforward since the Betfair last year.

“He disappointed in the (2019) King George, but then bounced back with a fantastic run in the Gold Cup last year.

“Then this year, it just hasn’t quite happened – for no particular reason.”

Lostintranslation broke a blood vessel when pulled up in the King George for the second successive season, and has since faded to be a distant fifth and last on his only subsequent start at Newbury.

“In the Denman last weekend, I actually think that was purely down to fitness,” added Tizzard.

“We checked he hadn’t bled again, and he hadn’t.

“He blew very hard. He’s a big, gross horse who hasn’t had a race properly since the Gold Cup last year.

“He went up to Haydock (for the Betfair), and hated the ground. Robbie (Power) was easy on him – and he bled after a couple of miles in the King George.

“We were very keen to get another run into him, and I think it has sharpened him up a treat.

“We need to improve on what he’s shown on the track, but I think he’s a horse who goes well in the spring – and I think he’s certainly going in the right direction.”

Denman Chase Trends

Staged at Newbury racecourse the Betfair-sponsored Denman Chase is a Grade Two race that is run in February each year.

First run in 2000, the Denman Chase is always a hotly-contested race that is run over a trip of 3 miles, and over the years has provided plenty of clues ahead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Four horses have won this race before going onto land the Cheltenham Gold Cup that same season – Kauto Star (2007), Denman (2008), Coneygree (2015) & Native River (2018).

In 2017 – Native River won the Denman Chase before running third in the Gold Cup, but in 2018 he went one better after landing both the Denman Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The race was upgraded to Listed status in 2002 and then promoted further in 2003 to a Grade Two – which it remains at today.

The contest was originally sponsored by the Aon Group, but in 2012 leading betting exchange – Betfair – took over the sponsorship mantle, and in the process also renamed the race the ‘Denman Chase’ in honour of the 2008 winner.

Since 2000 leading National Hunt trainer – Paul Nicholls – has won the race 9 times, while if you like your trends it’s worth noting that 7 of the last 13 winners of the Denman Chase were aged 7 years-old – backed up again in 2019 with the Paul Nicholls-trained Clan Des Obeaux winning as a 7 year-old.

However, it was the turn of a returning champion in Native River in 2020 – this Colin Tizzard chaser and former Gold Cup winner, landed his third Denman Chase under jockey Jonjo O’Neill Jnr.

Here at GEEGEEZ, we look back at recent winners of the race and highlights the key stats ahead of the 2021 renewal – this year staged on Sunday 21st February.

 

Recent Denman Chase Winners

2020 – Native River (2/5 fav)
2019 - Clan Des Obeaux (2/5 fav)
2018 - Native River (8/11 fav)
2017 – Native River (11/10)
2016 - Houblon des Obeaux (3/1)
2015 – Coneygree (15/8 fav)
2014 – Harry Topper (7/2)
2013 – Silviniaco Conti (8/11 fav)
2012 – Long Run (4/7 fav)
2011 – Noland (13/2)
2010 – Tricky Trickster (8/1)
2009 – Madison du Berlais (12/1)
2008 – Denman (1/4 fav)
2007 – Kauto Star (2/9 fav)

Denman Chase Trends

15/17 – Had won at least 4 times over fences (UK) before
15/17 – Had won over at least 3m (fences) before
14/17 – Rated 150+
13/17 – Placed favourites
13/17 – Ran within the last 6 weeks
13/17 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
12/17 – Aged 8 or younger
11/17 – Winners that went onto race in that season’s Gold Cup (4 winners)
11/17 – Had won over fences at Newbury before
10/17 – Raced at either Cheltenham (4) or Kempton (4) last time out
8/17 – Won last time out
8/17 – Winning favourites
7/17 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
7/17 – Irish bred
6/17 – French bred
5/17 – Winning distance – ¾ length or less
4/17 – Winners that went onto win the Gold Cup (Coneygree, Denman, Kauto Star & Native River)
3/17 – Returned a double-figure price
3/17 – Ridden by Richard Johnson
3/17 – Trained by Colin Tizzard
2/17 – Won by the Pipe stable
7 of the last 14 winners were aged 7 years-old
The average SP in the last 14 runnings is 3/1

 

 

 

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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!”

Cotswold Chase mission on the agenda for Native River

Native River will continue his preparations for a fourth outing in the Cheltenham Gold Cup by returning to the track next month in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.

The 2018 Gold Cup winner is being readied by Colin Tizzard to tackle the Grade Two prize on January 30, in preference to the following month’s Denman Chase at Newbury, which he has won three times in the past four seasons.

Having been forced to miss this year’s Gold Cup with injury, Native River made a satisfactory return to action when finishing third in the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase at Aintree, which he had claimed 12 months earlier.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He is a fantastic jumper and he jumped brilliantly throughout the race at Aintree.

“They took the fences out up the home straight which wouldn’t have helped, but Dicky (Richard Johnson) said they weren’t able to see a great deal (because of low sun).

“He had every chance bypassing what would have been the last though. He has come out of the race well and the plan is to have a go at the Cotswold Chase before having a crack at the Gold Cup.

“He just got jarred up in the Denman last season as it went a bit quick for him and it could do that again, so we thought we would go for the Cotswold instead as he needs that cut in the ground.”

Though Native River, who is a general 33-1 shot for the Gold Cup, will turn 11 on January 1, Tizzard junior believes he could still have a major say if conditions are in his favour.

He said: “He was two out of two last season and ran a blinder on his comeback this season. He has still got plenty of ability.

“If the ground came up in his favour at Cheltenham we know he is a solid performer, especially around there.”

Thistlecrack was forced to miss his intended return to action at Ascot on Saturday after meeting with a small setback (Julian Herbert/PA)
Thistlecrack was forced to miss his intended return to action at Ascot on Saturday after meeting with a small setback (Julian Herbert/PA)

Plans remain fluid for multiple Grade One winner Thistlecrack, who was ruled out of making his first start in over a year in the Porsche Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday after being reported to be lame.

Tizzard added: “No decision has been made either way with Thistlecrack as to whether to keep on racing him or retire him.

“The ground wouldn’t have stopped us going to Ascot, he was just a bit sore on Saturday morning and wasn’t quite 100 per cent which was a shame.

“We want to just get him right over the Christmas and new year period before we make any decisions.”

Santini and Native River face-off at Aintree

This year’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini and Native River, winner of the 2018 Cheltenham showpiece, are set to clash first time out this season in Aintree’s William Hill Many Clouds Chase.

Saturday’s Grade Two on the Mildmay course, highlight of a hugely competitive card also featuring two big handicaps over the Grand National fences, brings together three of the highest-rated chasers in training.

Colin Tizzard’s Native River won the race 12 months ago in first-time blinkers, and returns after also bagging Newbury’s Denman Chase last winter but subsequently having to miss Cheltenham because of injury.

Nicky Henderson’s Santini runs for the first time since being beaten just a neck by dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo at Cheltenham.

Frodon, Paul Nicholls’ 2019 Ryanair Chase winner, is officially rated 1lb superior to the 10-year-old Native River and 3lb below his fellow eight-year-old Santini.

They will race off level weights – but Frodon has a possible fitness advantage, having impressed many with a handicap victory over this trip at Cheltenham in October.

Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad and Warren Greatrex’s Keeper Hill complete the field of five.

Walk In The Mill will have 14 rivals as he bids for his third successive Becher Handicap Chase victory.

Robert Walford’s 10-year-old is reopposed by the last two runners-up, Kimberlite Candy from 12 months ago and Vieux Lion Rouge in 2018.

The latter – trained by David Pipe, whose Ramses De Teillee is more prominent in the betting – has a remarkable Aintree record, having won this race in 2016, run over the fences eight times in all and completed on every occasion.

Other major contenders in this year’s renewal include Ben Pauling’s Le Breuil, seventh last year when his yard was not in the best of form, and Nicholls’ pair Yala Enki and Give Me A Copper.

The William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, which closes the card and is run over three furlongs shorter than the Becher at two miles and five, has 19 declarations.

Prominent among them are Alex Hales’ Wetherby Listed winner Huntsman Son, Modus and Sametegal from Nicholls’ powerhouse and – at the top of the weights – Richard Hobson’s possible Grand National candidate Lord Du Mesnil.

Henderson’s Might Bite, runner-up to Native River in the 2018 Gold Cup, makes his debut over the big fences at the age of 11.

Native River handed Welsh National option ahead of Aintree return

Native River is one of four potential runners for Colin Tizzard in this year’s Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

It is four years since the bold-jumping chestnut landed the Monmouthshire marathon before going on to scale even greater heights with victory in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The 10-year-old won each of his two starts last season before injury prevented a return to Cheltenham in March, but he is reported to be in rude health ahead of a likely bid for back-to-back victories in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on December 5.

Speaking in his latest Coral blog, assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “Native River is in beautiful form at home. We have the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree, the race he won last year, as the first target for him.

“He schooled on Wednesday morning and he will definitely be ready for that, and then it’s a case of what options we will look at for him.

“We spoke to Garth and Anne Broome (owners) and we agreed that we would give him an entry for the Welsh Grand National, as we want that option for him. He’s not getting any younger, and with the Gold Cup as competitive as it is, I’m not sure he’s going to win another one, so we wanted to give ourselves a Christmas big race option for him when there isn’t a lot else.

“He’s rated 168, which is obviously a lot of weight, but the conditions of the Welsh Grand National really play to Native River’s strengths – as we have seen before.

“We don’t have to decide now – we can take a look at the weights, and the ground and the opposition nearer the time and make a decision then.”

Tizzard’s other possible Welsh Grand National contenders are Copperhead, Christmas In April and Lamanver Pippin.

Copperhead was pulled up on his seasonal reappearance over hurdles at Wetherby, while Christmas In April and Lamanver Pippin recently finished placed at Fontwell and Cheltenham respectively.

“Copperhead was disappointing at Wetherby, but he seems in really good form now and he’s heading for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury,” Tizzard continued.

“His form as a novice (chaser) last year seems to tick a lot of boxes for a Welsh National horse. He’s a big, long-striding, horse who gallops all day. His first target is the Ladbrokes Trophy, but this would be the next logical option.

“Christmas In April is a real stayer who ran well in the Southern National at Fontwell on Sunday. He is a horse that will get in off a low weight, which is always an advantage in the Welsh National.

“Lamanver Pippin ran a blinder on his comeback at Cheltenham last weekend. He won at Chepstow last year and the Welsh National looks the right race for him.”