Johnson: Native River a big threat to Thistlecrack

Native River (red cap, noseband) charges to Welsh National victory

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) 'Phenomenal' River a
big threat to Thistlecrack By Peter Scargill 1:47PM 30 DEC 2016

NATIVE RIVER is the biggest threat to Thistlecrack in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup after producing a "phenomenal performance" to win the Coral Welsh Grand National under top weight on Tuesday.

That is the view of champion jockey Richard Johnson, who believes the six-year-old is getting better and better with every run and should now be considered a major danger to his Colin Tizzard-trained stablemate.

Johnson, who won the 2000 Cheltenham Gold Cup on Looks Like Trouble, is unbeaten in three starts over fences on Native River collecting the Mildway Novices' Chase, the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh Grand National.

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"It was a phenomenal performance [in the Welsh National] to carry that weight on [soft] ground," Johnson said. "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."

Inexperienced Thistlecrack

Owned by Garth and Anne Broom of Brocade Racing, Native River is the general 8-1 second favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind 5-4 favourite Thistlecrack. Cue Card is 12-1.

However, while Thistlecrack was imperious when winning the King George VI Chase on Monday, Johnson feels the eight-year-old's lack of experience could still prove to be his downfall.

Writing in his Betway blog, Johnson said: "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."

He added: "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."

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