Winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the dream of most National Hunt Owners, and that’s the dream that Native River realized for Brocade racing when he led from start to finish in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
However, like many top-class chasers, Native River started as a work in progress in 2014 when he ran in a point-to-point. We’re taking a look back at Native River’s career and what the future may hold for him.
Trainer: Colin Tizzard
Jockeys: Richard Johnson, Aidan Coleman, Mr M Legg, Brendan Powell, Tom Scudamore, P King
Owner: Brocade Racing
Sire: Indian River (FR)
Dam: Native Mo (IRE)
Native River made his point-to-point debut at Dromahane in March 2014. He was third as he approached the final fence but unseated his rider.
Native River had been bought by Brocade Racing when he made his official debut under rules in a bumper at Newbury. He was only the fifth favourite of seven runners that day, but finished third, conceding 7lb to the two horses that finished in front of him.
Connections then sent him straight over hurdles, stepping him up in trip to 22 furlongs at Stratford. He was sent-off at 8/1, but belied those odds with a 3¾ length victory.
He then travelled to Newcastle for The French Furze Hurdle, where he started 10/1 but managed to beat the odds-on favourite Definitely Red, who himself would later mature into a decent chaser.
His trainer Colin Tizzard then set his sights higher, and he took in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury, where he didn’t run his race, finishing last of six. He then got back on track in a novices’ hurdle at Exeter, conceding weight to all his rivals.
He made his last start that season at the Cheltenham Festival, where he contested the three-mile Albert Bartlett Hurdle. He was sent-off at 16/1, but blundered his chances away with a mistake at the sixth hurdle.
Colin Tizzard wasted no time sending this embryonic chaser over fences in his second season, but the market suggested he wasn’t overly fancied as he made his finished third over 2½ miles.
It was a different story on his next two starts over three-miles. He was backed off the boards to win a novice chase at Exeter and confirmed the impression he made there by winning a Grade 2 at Newbury, despite conceding 7lb to the useful Un Temps Pout Tout.
His next race was in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day but, despite being backed into favouritism, he could only finish third after failing to get into a good rhythm. That was again the case next time at Wetherby, when he finished behind Blakion and Definitely Red, two horses he had previously beaten.
He was then outstayed by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Minella Rocco in the four-mile National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but he won his Grade 1 when he took his revenge on Blaklion in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, when ridden by Richard Johnson for the first time.
Colin Tizzard believed he had a well-handicapped horse and, with a view to preserving that mark for the Hennessey Gold Cup, he sent Native River to Wetherby to warm-up in a hurdle race. He ran well to finish second, and Tizzard and Johnson were adamant that he would win the Hennessey.
That optimism was backed up with a wave of money that saw his odds tumble from 10/1 to 7/2 favourite. He jumped brilliantly all the way out in front, but still had enough in hand to hold off the late challenge of Carole’s Destrier.
He possibly deserved a rest after that, but connections targeted the Welsh National after saying he was bucking and squealing at home. They were right with their assessment, as Native River ran his rivals ragged from the front under top-weight, a sure sign that he was ready to take in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Connections used the Denman Chase at Newbury as Native River’s warm up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. After winning that, he was sent-off the 7/2 second-favourite in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind the previous year’s runner-up Djakadam. However, neither could lay a glove on Sizing John, whilst Minella Rocco stayed on late to again finish in front of Native River at the Cheltenham Festival.
Native River met with a slight setback which meant connections scratched their pre-Christmas targets for him. Instead, they mapped out a daring one run prep-race for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the Denman Chase. He duly won back-to-back renewals of that race with an easy-looking 12-lengths success from Cloudy Dream.
Connections were delighted to see the ground turn soft at the Cheltenham Festival, as that placed the emphasis firmly on stamina for the Gold Cup. They were also probably delighted that Minella Rocco was a non-runner. Native River was sent-off as third favourite behind Might Bite and Our Duke, but it was a race that Native River and Might Bite occupied the first two positions throughout the race, with Native River’s stamina winning the day as he galloped up the hill for a 4½ lengths success.
Native River owes his connections nothing but, whilst he wouldn’t be the first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner to regress after his Gold Cup victory, he could still be improving judged on his progressive profile. Connections have said they will target the £1 Million Bonus for winning the Betfair Chase, King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, unless the ground comes up very soft at Haydock and Kempton, he may find himself lacking the toe of some of his more naturally speedier rivals. Whatever the outcome of his pre-Christmas targets, don’t be surprised if he wins a third Denman Chase in February on his way to a Cheltenham Gold Cup defence.