COLIN TIZZARD believes conditions will be ideal for Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River to return to winning ways this weekend.
His champion has produced two fine efforts in defeat this season. He finished second to Bristol De Mai in Haydock’s Betfair Chase and was then third to the Paul Nicholls-trained Clan Des Obeaux in Kempton’s King George VI Chase on Boxing Day where he was unsuited by the right-handed track.
While champion jockey Richard Johnson’s mount was outpaced in both three-mile races due to unsuitably good ground, Tizzard believes Newbury’s galloping track will play to the strengths of his steeplechaser whose stamina is not in doubt after victory in the 2016 Welsh Grand National.
After all, Native River won the Denman Chase – named after the 2008 Gold Cup hero – last year before following up at Cheltenham a month later after a protracted duel with Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite over a rain-softened three and a quarter miles.
With rising star Clan Des Obeaux, co-owned by football legend Sir Alex Ferguson, also due to line up at Newbury the outcome will, in all likelihood, determine the leading British challenger for next month’s blue riband race.
“At Kempton he jumped out to the left. That’s twice he has been there and he hasn’t been at ease,” reflected Tizzard last night.
“He stayed on well at Kempton, that’s all we can take out of the race. I think he is almost unbeaten at Newbury, so this was always going to be our prep race. I think the King George winner is going there as well, but this is our prep race for the Gold Cup.”
Tizzard added: “I think the course at Newbury will suit him better. He is a strong stayer and he has very good form round Newbury. We will see what the entries are like. If they have the forecast rain and it’s good to soft, he’ll be there.”
Coneygree, winner of the Gold Cup in 2015, has been entered by Mark and Sara Bradstock. He picked up another minor injury when unseating in the King George.
Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly and Gordon Elliott’s Noble Endeavor could make the journey over from Ireland after being withdrawn from Sunday’s Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown after the unseasonable going good to firm on account of a drying wind.
Nicky Henderson has entered Beware The Bear, following his good win last time out, and Gold Present, owned by Yorkshire businessman John Cotton and his wife Barbara.
Meanwhile Warren Greatrex has reiterated La Bague Au Roi remains “highly unlikely” to make an appearance at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
The trainer is keen to aim the eight-year-old mare at the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree after she maintained her unbeaten record over fences when claiming a second successive Grade One victory at Leopardstown on Sunday under the aforementioned Johnson.
La Bague Au Roi is as short as 6-1 for both the RSA and JLT Novices’ Chases at Cheltenham, but Greatrex believes the timings may not work in her favour.
He said: “I was very nervous and I could not wait to get it over and done with, but it was worth the wait. I would say it is highly unlikely that she will go to Cheltenham. It is five weeks to Cheltenham and over eight weeks until Aintree, where she would go back up in trip.”
Charlotte Russell has been appointed as the new General Manager for Go Racing in Yorkshire, the marketing organisation for the county’s nine racecourses.
The 35-year-old racing enthusiast joins the Go Racing team after serving seven years as sales and marketing manager with the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.
She began her new role yesterday and said: “I have a huge passion for racing and Yorkshire so to be able to combine the two is ideal. I can’t wait to get the bit between my teeth and keep it moving forward and promoting racing in the county.”
John Sexton, chairman of Go Racing, added: “We are delighted that Charlotte is joining us. I am sure that she will do a fantastic job for racing in Yorkshire.
“Go Racing came into being over 40 years ago and has stood the test of time. We have made enormous strides, and with Charlotte’s skills and enthusiasm, I am sure that progress will continue.”
Today’s National Hunt meeting at Sedgefield is the latest fixture to be lost to the cold snap.
Despite temperatures rising nationwide, the thaw did not come in time because of the amount of frost in the ground at the North East track.
Meanwhile Musselburgh will stage an eight race card on Sunday worth £160,000 and comprising a number of races that were originally lost from its Scottish Cheltenham Trials weekend that was another weather victim.