Champ sweet on Native River
Champion jockey Richard Johnson feels Native River has to be a "big player" in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup after his Welsh National win.
Richard Johnson (left) thinks Native River can be a big player in the Gold Cup
Beaten in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March, his three subsequent outings over fences have seen him win a Grade One at Aintree, the Hennessy and the Welsh National before he even turns seven.
It capped a great first half of the season for his trainer Colin Tizzard, who also won the Feltham with Royal Vacation and of course the King George VI Chase with Thistlecrack – who is now odds-on in places for the Gold Cup.
"We went to Chepstow hoping for good to soft ground for Native River, but it was definitely soft. It was a phenomenal performance to carry that weight on that ground," said Johnson in his Betway blog.
"I've ridden him four times and each time he's improved. He's got such a great attitude, he always delivers. You can't ask for more than that.
"I see he's now second favourite for the Gold Cup and he has to be a big player as he stays and jumps. If you take Thistlecrack out, it's a very open race.
"Cue Card ran well in the King George, but the proximity of the other horses around him wouldn't worry you about taking him on at Cheltenham.
"Thistlecrack is the one everyone has to beat, but he is a novice. That lack of experience could be the only chink in his armour. He was hugely impressive at Kempton and is another who is improving with each run.
"He's learnt how to put in a short one now, which he couldn't really do two starts back. He's very classy and to beat a horse like Cue Card the way he did showed what a good horse he is.
"The Tizzard yard is in unbelievable form and they've had an amazing few days over Christmas."
It's 66/1 that Tizzard trains the first four home and just 14s that he saddles the first three.