Amidst the clamour over Al Boum Photo’s successive Gold Cup triumphs, and all the talk over whether Willie Mullins’ horse can become the first since Best Mate to win it three times in a row, the 2018 Gold Cup winner has been somewhat forgotten about. Native River’s eventual absence from last year’s race meant he has not been a name on the lips of many punters, but with a fine win in the Cotswold Chase at Sandown recently, there is talk that the Colin Tizzard-trained horse could be set to make a roaring comeback at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
There was something almost ghostly about Native River’s Sandown success. It was as if watching a resurrection taking place. Suddenly, the hard work and heavy-footedness which defined Native River’s prior outing was gone, and the spirit of the Gold Cup champion was there at the forefront once more. He forged a strong lead in the early stages of the race, and did not surrender it despite the gallant challenges of the chasing pack.
Joe Tizzard, assistant to trainer Colin, was quick to pour the praise on Native River and highlight his qualities following the Sandown success.
“Not in the last few months have I enjoyed a race more than that,” he said. “He was good to watch today. He was a handful to saddle today which is kind of unlike him but he was right on his game.
“There are not many tougher than this horse. All these horses that get to the top end need to be tough, whether they look like it or not they need to be. He has got a cruising speed and he can maintain it for perhaps that extra half mile when other horses can’t. I wouldn’t mind a stable full of him.”
That kind of form will inspire confidence in any horse’s connections, and given Native River’s past achievements you can understand Tizzard’s belief in the horse that produced such a fantastic moment to win the Cheltenham showpiece three years ago.
It’s no surprise that Al Boum Photo is the favourite in the Gold Cup ante-post odds for this year’s Cheltenham Festival. After all, two wins in the last two Gold Cups means it’s impossible to look beyond him. But with this resurgence from Native River, who has demonstrated bitty form since losing his Gold Cup crown in March 2019, horse racing fans have been forced to sit up and take notice of this great champion once more.
Indeed, while other Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders have stuttered recently – notably Minella Indo’s drab showing in the Irish Gold Cup – Native River is one that seems to have built up a head of steam. Momentum can have a massive impact when it comes to enjoying success at the Cheltenham Festival, and there’s no doubt that the Tizzards will be doing all they can to get Native River in the best possible shape to win a second Cheltenham Gold Cup. If you end up with some free bets for Cheltenham, then perhaps the 2018 champion could be worth a stab for this year’s race.
There are plenty of horses who are more fancied to challenge Al Boum Photo come March 19th, but there are few who have the experience of having been there and done it. The Tizzards, jockey Richard Johnson, and Native River himself all know what it takes to get over the line ahead of the pack in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Could there be one last hurrah for the 11-year-old in this year’s Festival showpiece?