COLIN TIZZARD’S emphatic endorsement of Native River’s credentials ahead of the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup could not have been more convincing.
“He is in the form of his life and will take a lot of beating. He has got it all,” eulogised the trainer yesterday as he lauded his rising star who began the current campaign by finishing second in Wetherby’s West Yorkshire Hurdle.
This was just the prelude to subsequent victories in Newbury’s Hennessy Gold Cup, Chepstow’s Welsh National and then a classy win in Newbury’s Denman Chase two weeks ago when the front-runner was ridden more conservatively to optimise his finishing speed.
Tizzard was speaking just 48 hours after his King George hero Thistlecrack, ante-post favourite for the Gold Cup, was ruled out of next month’s blue riband race with a tendon injury.
And his endorsement of the seven-year-old Native River is also more significant, coming in the same week as evergreen stablemate Cue Card booked his Gold Cup ticket with a virtuoso performance in the Grade One Ascot Chase.
“We’ve had Native River since a four-year-old and he is a lovely young pretender now,” said Tizzard.
“He has got all the qualities. He has got that long, raking stride, longer than any other horse that we have got here.
“We used to pigeon hole him a bit that he wanted good ground, but we have put that to sleep this winter, he can handle any ground.
“He jumps and he stays and we saw something the other week (in the Denman Chase) we didn’t know he had – those gears. He sprinted away and wasn’t looking like stopping.”
Conversely Cue Card’s most unfortunate moment on a racecourse came in the Gold Cup last year when he fell three out, gifting the race to the now retired Don Cossack.
His form this season has again been strong, despite a slightly sluggish third place in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase, and he provided one of the most popular victories of the winter in the Ascot Chase last Saturday.
Tizzard added: “It was amazing the reception he got winning at Ascot. I think the press have made him into the people’s favourite horse. It was a fantastic reception.
“He is 11-years-old but he should have won that race, although not necessarily like he did it. He jumped like he was right back to his very best. He was fluid and came away when he wanted and sauntered home.
“It was his own making that he fell last year and there is everything to play for. He is faster than your average Gold Cup horse. That was whole idea of going to Ascot which Paddy Brennan came up with.
“He said two miles and five furlongs round there will be fast and it will get his jumping slick and it has worked out a treat.”
Tizzard is a short price to train a Gold Cup winner, even in spite of the aforementioned Thistlecrack’s absence, but he is not taking a thing for granted.
He said: “The Gold Cup is a tremendous pressure for me as a trainer, the owners, the horses and the jockeys.
“Just because they are first and second favourite it is not a gimme this Gold Cup.
“They will have to be right on their game.
“We are nearly through. We’ve not got to do any big racecourse gallops.
“We are on auto pilot. What we do every day and week of the year is what we will do now.”