Johnson relishing Hennessy ride on River
Richard Johnson has never won a Hennessy Gold Cup, but the champion jockey hopes to put that right at Newbury on Saturday with the help of Native River.
The strong-staying six-year-old, who represents the in-form Colin Tizzard stable, heads the betting for Newbury's biggest race and has leading claims, according to Johnson.
Owned by Garth and Anne Broom, Native River, the 6-1 market leader, won the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree in April for Johnson and the pair warmed up for Saturday by finishing second in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby last month.
"I'm delighted to be riding him," said Johnson. "He was great at Aintree in April. The more I kept asking him the more he kept giving me and that's a great quality in a horse.
"It was a good performance over hurdles last time and Lil Rockerfeller [third at Wetherby] franked the form at Ascot on Saturday. Native River is a better chaser than hurdler. What I like about him is that he improved throughout last season."
Smad Place's presence at the top of the weights means Native River will run off 11st 1lb.
"It's nice that Smad Place is running in the race as it keeps the weights down for us," Johnson added on his Betway blog. "It's very hard to win off top weight in a Hennessy.
"This race is always run at a strong gallop and that will suit my horse. His strongest attribute is his staying ability and he's also a very good jumper.
"Both he and the Tizzard team are in great form so we're really looking forward to Saturday."