SUBSTITUTE jockey Aidan Coleman could not have been more effusive in his praise after describing leading Cheltenham Gold Cup prospect Native River as “the perfect racehorse”.
Coleman was a late call-up for an intriguing Grade Two Denman Chase at Newbury after ailing champion jockey Richard Johnson felt he could not do justice to the Hennessy and Welsh national winner because of flu-like symptoms.
Despite a very awkward jump at the innocuous water jump, the smallest obstacle on the course, Colin Tizzard’s chaser had too much class for the gallant runner-up Le Mercurey and the highly-regarded Bristol De Mai who was a bitterly disappointing third.
The main challenger to stablemate Thistlecrack in next month’s blue riband race, opinion was divided on the outcome – some seasoned judges said it was the performance of a horse who will gallop his Gold Cup rivals into the ground while others noted the proximity of Le Mercurey whose chasing career is modest.
Yet Coleman was quick to credit the aforementioned Johnson for the change of tactics which saw Native River keep enough in hand in order to quicken decisively after the second last fence, a plan tailor-made for Cheltenham.
Although Coleman, a jockey surprisingly still seeking his first Grade One win, would like nothing more than to ride the horse in the Gold Cup, he accepts that he was just keeping the saddle warm for Johnson.
Asked what makes the “perfect racehorse”, Coleman told The Yorkshire Post: “He’s just a very easy ride and a great jumper.”
The jockey, in action at Catterick today, added: “He has a great attitude and obviously he’s very talented. It’s as simple as that really.
“I had a quick chat with Richard Johnson before I got ready to come out for Native River and he told me what he thought he would do.
“I followed that to the letter and to be fair, from looking at the horse running, I would have gone quicker but Dickie’s plan was absolutely perfect – it was to get him some company and then he would run on again.
“The mistake Native River made was definitely jockey error and he was very clever to get out of it. Other than that, he is an absolutely fantastic jumper with a lot of class as well. He is just a perfect racehorse, really.”
On a mouthwatering day which saw Altior confirm his status as the country’s top two-mile novice chaser following a sublime win in the Game Spirit Chase under Nico de Boinville, and another Cheltenham prospect Ballyandy win the Betfair Hurdle for jockey Sam Twiston-Davies and his father Nigel, it was Native River’s run which confirmed the wellbeing of the Tizzard stable after a relatively fallow period by their exacting high standards this season.
As well as Native River who was second on his seasonal reappearance in Wetherby’s West Yorkshire Hurdle last October, and the aforementioned King George hero Thistlecrack, the stable is also due to be represented by the veteran Cue Card in the Gold Cup provided his prep race at Ascot this Saturday goes to plan.
Speaking after Native River’s win, Tizzard said: “I think Aidan only asked him going to the second last – he just nudged him along – and it shows that the horse is a bit classier. In his last two races, he went five or eight lengths clear four out and only just held on.
“We wanted to ride him a bit differently today and have that finishing spurt at the end. It has worked out brilliantly as he was going away on the line. Aidan is not a bad sub, is he?
“It would be unfair of me to say who was better out of my Gold Cup entries but they are all lovely horses and I am just so proud to have them in our yard. In a three-horse race today, you would have thought that we might get outmanoeuvred but Native River has got a bit more class than a thorough stayer, he has got a bit of pace as well.
Tizzard had further reason to smile when Finian’s Oscar outclassed his rivals in Exeter’s novice hurdle yesterday. Ridden by Tom O’Brien, the odds-on favourite – owned by Yorkshire-born Alan Potts and his wife Ann – is the one to beat in Cheltenham’s Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.