Native River among 2018 Cheltenham Festival horses to follow
Hurdle Bet look at Native River as the latest of their 2018 Cheltenham Festival horses to follow.
One horse who still has plenty to offer going forward after a magnificent 2016/17 campaign is Native River.
Trained by Colin Tizzard, the gelding landed both the Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National as a six-year-old.
While the former – a showpiece at Newbury – is often won by younger horses, the latter at Chepstow is a very different type of race.
Only thorough stayers win the Welsh Grand National, and Native River became just the third postwar six-year-old to do that.
Wondrous Welsh National effort
I was very taken with this display over an extended 3m 5f in the hands of champion jockey Richard Johnson.
Despite a 4lb penalty imposed for his Hennessy victory, Native River defied top-weight when taking up the running after 10 of the 22 fences and made the rest.
He was also value for more than 1 3/4 lengths winning margin suggests, as his lead was reduced towards the finish.
Native River was giving weight all round and each of the horses who filled the places had claimers on board.
This was a prominent performance that confirmed him as a staying chaser to be reckoned with.
Clear Gold Cup contender
After back-to-back wins in those Grade 3 handicaps, he had the opposition running scared.
Just two horses dared oppose him in his Cheltenham Festival prep run for the Gold Cup – the Denman Chase back at Newbury.
Native River made all of the just shy of 3m in that Grade 2, beating Le Mercurey by 3 1/4 lengths.
When Tizzard stablemate Thistlecrack had to pull out of the Cheltenham Gold Cup due to injury, Native River was made favourite.
He was edged out by Djakadam at the head of the betting on the big day, but neither landed the spoils at Prestbury Park.
No shame in third place
Native River instead finished a 2 3/4 lengths third to Sizing John.
A magnificent rally from Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus gelding Minella Rocco cost him the runner-up spot in the shadow of the post.
Some may argue finishing third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was a disappointing end to his season. I disagree, however.
Sizing John was an unexposed horse at 3m 2f, having stepped up in trip for third time in a row at Prestbury Park.
Minella Rocco, meanwhile, simply confirmed the form of the 2016 National Hunt Chase where he also pipped Native River.
Handicap route looks closed
Another crack at the Gold Cup looks one obvious route to go down and Betway are an early 12/1 about him in that.
If Tizzard can get Thistlecrack back fit and racing then he will again doubtless see the value of being double-handed in National Hunt racing’s blue riband chase.
For me, Native River will be too badly handicapped off an official end of 2016/17 season mark of 166, to do anything else.
That is 11lb higher than the 155 he won both the Hennessy and Welsh National off.
The bookies share my concerns as Native River is a best-price 20/1 with Paddy Power in their ante post betting for the former.
Grand National would be weighty gamble
If the handicap route looks too taxing, that would seemingly rule out a crack at the 2018 Grand National.
There is no doubting Native River has what it takes to stay the 4m 2f Aintree marathon, it’s about how much weight he would carry.
A traditional path, taking in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day en route to a second Cheltenham Gold Cup, makes sense, then.
Paddy Power are also 20/1 about a King George win for Native River.
More from Hurdle Bet
For more horses to follow, visit our news section.