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.
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.
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.
“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.”