Connections of Native River will be hoping their horse can pull off a remarkable double later this year by winning the two biggest prizes in national hunt racing with the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National.
The Colin Tizzard-trained runner has already proven this season that he enjoys a stamina test as he was successful at Newbury in the Hennessey Gold Cup where he carried over 11 stone on his back in the 3m2f contest to hold off the late challenge of Carole’s Destrier in the closing stages.
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Native River once again showed his liking for the marathon trips in December as he prevailed in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow which is run over 3m5f. His rider Richard Johnson took up the running very early into the contest in Wales and the pair defied top weight to score by just under two lengths ahead of Raz De Maree while the rest of the pack were at least a further 15 lengths back.
Tizzard is likely to run three of his horses in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at the Festival in March as he also has the ante-post favourite Thistlecrack who was the winner of the King George and Cue Card who is now set to go for the Blue Riband event of the meeting rather than the Ryanair Chase.
Thistlecrack has drifted in the betting for the Gold Cup after he was beaten for the first time over fences at Cheltenham last weekend in the Cotswold Chase. That defeat for the novice chaser is likely to give his rivals encouragement that they can beat the King George winner at the Festival.
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Cue Card started the season well with success in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the first leg of the Chase Triple Crown. He was well beaten by Thistlecrack at Kempton though on Boxing Day which made connections think about which race to target at the Festival. The owners have since announced that they will have another shot at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the race he fell in last year when travelling well with just three fences left on the course.
As long as Native River comes out of the Cheltenham Gold Cup well, he is then likely to run at Aintree the following month. The Hennessy Gold Cup winner has been given odds for the Grand National 2017 of 20/1 with many bookmakers who see the nine-year-old as one of the leading contenders for the 4m4f contest.
There has been precedent for horses who have run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup to do well in the Grand National. Many Clouds was successful in the 2015 running of the unique steeplechase just weeks after he finished a respectable sixth in the Gold Cup which was won by Coneygree in a close finish up the hill at Cheltenham.
If Native River can pull off the double and win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National, he will cement his place into the history books as one of the greatest staying steeplechasers in the history of the sport.