Native River prepares to land second Welsh Grand National title

Native River was an impressive winner of the 2016 Welsh National under Richard Johnson.
Native River was an impressive winner of the 2016 Welsh National under Richard Johnson.
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NATIVE River appears increasingly likely to bid for a second victory in next month’s Coral Welsh Grand National.

It is three years since Colin Tizzard’s staying steeplechaser was a very eye-catching second in Wetherby’s West Yorkshire Hurdle – the run really pleased the trainer – before landing the attritional Chepstow marathon.

Native River and Richard Johnson (near side) denied Might Bite in an epic renewal of the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Native River and Richard Johnson (near side) denied Might Bite in an epic renewal of the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The horse then won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March 2018 under champion jockey Richard Johnson following an epic battle with the runner-up Might Bite.

The nine-year-old also finished fourth in the blue riband race last season – and a return to Cheltenam next March for a fourth Gold Cup tilt remains a key target.

However, Chepstow’s festive feature on December 27 is on Native River’s more immediate agenda.

His part-owner Garth Broom said: “Plan A is now looking like the Welsh National for Native River. We would like to give him a run over hurdles before, if one comes up suitable for him.

“I think the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree might come a bit too quick for him, and it is unlikely to be an option, but it hasn’t been totally ruled out.

“We know he likes the track at Chepstow and can carry a big weight in the soft ground they usually get there – and it fits in nicely timing-wise if we go to the Denman Chase at Newbury afterwards.”

Meanwhile, Catterick trainer Phil Kirby says second-season chaser Top Ville Ben is on course for this Saturday’s prestigious Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle.

Third to Tizzard’s Losintransation, the new Cheltenham Gold Cup ante-post favourite, in a Grade One novice chase at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, Top Ville Ben was fifth in his seasonal reappearance to Ballyoptic in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase.

“He’s going to go for the Rehearsal. It’s a good prize-money race, and he’s in good form,” said Kirby whose stable star, Lady Buttons, could line up in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle on the same card.

However, conditions at Newcastle were described as heavy yesterday morning, and clerk of the course James Armstrong admits some of the forecasts he has seen do not look especially favourable.

He said: “We’re perfectly raceable at the moment, but the ground is heavy, and we could really do with a few dry days.

“Since the last meeting we’ve moved rails and we have fresh ground on the hurdle course, so the track is in pretty good nick, but we could do without a lot more rain. We’ve had just over an inch of rain since Friday.”

Paul Nicholls is considering a drop in both class and trip for Frodon in Kempton’s Silviniaco Conti Chase.

The champion trainer sees the recently-upgraded two-and-a-half-mile Grade Two on January 11 as the ideal target for last season’s Ryanair winner – who is yet to rediscover his best form in two starts this campaign.

After finishing third on his comeback in last month’s Old Roan Chase at Aintree, Frodon filled the same spot on his return to the top table when failing to figure prominently in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

Nicholls said: “He might come back to Kempton in the middle of January for the Silviniaco Conti Chase over two-and-a-half miles, which has been upgraded to a Grade Two and that’s what I’m thinking.

“It looks like it might be the ideal race for him.”