champion jockey Richard Johnson is looking forward to former Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River renewing rivalry with Might Bite at Aintree tomorrow.
Native River, trained by Colin Tizzard, has not won since beating Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite in an epic renewal of the 2018 Gold Cup.
But Johnson is hopeful that his mount, a soft ground specialist, has the necessary attributes to win the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase over three miles before a possible tilt at the Grand National next April.
“He’s been a fantastic horse for me, and it’s great to see him back,” said the four-times champion jockey who holds a slender lead over North Yorkshire’s Brian Hughes in the current title race.
“It looks an ideal opportunity, and he was impressive in the novice chase there a couple of years ago.
“The switch in headgear is just a change.
“He’s getting older and wiser – but with the small field, it looks a good place to start.
“He wasn’t beaten far in the Gold Cup last season (fourth to Al Boum Photo) but he never quite fired as he did the year before – but he had a hard race in the Gold Cup the year before against Might Bite.
“He only had three runs last year, but they were all good, and he never got his ground.”
As for Might Bite, Nico de Boinville’s mount did win a Grade One chase at Aintree after his Gold Cup exploits – but failed to fire on three disappointing starts last season. Part-owner David Minton said: “The track obviously suits him, because when he won the Bowl there a couple of years ago he was very good. It’s the ideal race for him to start off and Nico has been happy with his schooling.”
Expectations are tempered, however. Minton added: “As long as he comes back to something like his best and runs respectably, we’ll be happy.
“Both he and Native River escape any penalty, because neither of them won a race last year – which after the year they had prior to that, is hard to believe. It would be great to see them have a duel again.”