Native River runs them ragged
Native River took advantage of his lenient handicap mark to run away with the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on Tuesday.
Native River scoots clear in the Welsh National
Colin Tizzard's charge escaped penalty for his Hennessy victory so he was 8lb 'well-in' for the Welsh feature and he made no mistake off advantageous terms, jumping brilliantly in the hands of Richard Johnson to seal another success on a landmark week for his stable.
Thistlecrack won the King George in fantastic fashion at Kempton on Boxing Day, while another stablemate Royal Vacation was a much more fortuitous winner of the Kauto Star Novices' Chase on the same card.
But there was no fluke about Native River's easy success, as he was heavily eased down in the closing stages to beat Raz De Maree by a length and three quarters, with Houblon Des Obeaux third and Beg To Differ fourth.
Johnson said: "It's unbelievable. I wasn't happy for the first mile and I think he definitely wants better ground, but he's such a trier. After four or five fences he started to get into his rhythm.
"I was worried beforehand as I didn't want to make all, but I had to get him going. It was like he was being over-cautious so I had to get him going like in the Hennessy. Once I did that he had a lovely time.
"The Gold Cup is always about top-class chasers that stay really well. He's got that in abundance – to win a Welsh National off top weight is a hell of a performance.
"Hopefully he's still going the right way and I'm sure slightly better ground will help him as well."
The 11-4 market leader jumped well in the main to keep up the momentum and produced a huge leap four fences from the finish to propel him clear of the field.
He could well join Thistlecrack in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March and Sky Bet cut him to 12-1 from 20s for that contest.
Sky Bet spokesman Michael Shinners said: "Colin Tizzard's week just keeps on getting better and he's bashed the bookies again as Native River was a very popular choice indeed.
"He might not have the natural brilliance of Thistlecrack, but he just keeps on galloping and his stamina could well be a key asset come Cheltenham Gold Cup time."
Tizzard said the Gold Cup is the obvious route: "He's a beautiful young horse. He's only six, after all, and it took me a long time to get them (owners) to run him. I had to think of the reasons why we should run.
"It hadn't rained and there were no horses carrying 10 stone in it. That's when the top weights are vulnerable, but there was only just over a stone in the handicap and there was nowhere else to go.
"He won't do any more than he's got to. As soon as he got out in the country, he got better and better in the race.
"He's a lovely stayer. Any other season, without the likes of Thistlecrack and Cue Card, he'd be anyone's champion.
"He's a stayer so there's nowhere else he can go apart from the Gold Cup. We've got options with Cue Card. He could drop back for the Ryanair.
"There's all to play for. We were actually thinking before we came here today that Native River could go the World Hurdle route.
"You've got to keep an open mind, but I think we'll stay chasing now."
Although Garth Broom, one half of owners Brocade Racing, was initially wary of the decision to run Native River, he was only too pleased his star performer took his chance.
He said: "He (Tizzard) twisted my arm. Colin had more reasons to run him than I had not to. He won much easier than I hoped he would. Richard Johnson said he stills feel we've not got to the bottom of him yet.
"If something takes him on he is such a fighter he will battle back. He is a horse of a lifetime, really."
Raz De Maree's rider Ger Fox said of Gavin Cromwell's charge: "I thought I was going to get him.
"I winged the last and I knew Dicky Johnson's horse was carrying a lot of weight and I thought he might tie up, but still delighted to finish second. The winner was a special horse .
"It was a great performance by my horse and by the team at home to keep a horse of his age to enjoy these type of tough chasers."
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