Native River routs rivals to keep Tizzard's dream run going
Colin Tizzard looked out towards Chepstow’s finishing line and tried to absorb the magnitude of this season of his dreams. In truth, it might take him years.
First Thistlecrack, now Native River leaving everything else toiling, Tizzard first, the rest nowhere. Or so it felt as the youngest of his golden trio – let’s not forget Cue Card – left jump racing gazing in admiration again.
“We’ve had tastes of it before, but nothing like this,” said the trainer after Native River became the first horse to carry top weight to victory in the Welsh Grand National since Carvill’s Hill 25 years earlier.
“It’s absolutely fantastic. Once you’ve had one like this you want to see what the next good horse is for sale. Things couldn’t be better. Horses like this are hard to find and you’ve just got to enjoy the moment. It’s addictive.”
Help from the weather gods
Everything is coming right for Tizzard, even the weather. For the first time in six years this marathon was run on ground that was not heavy and Native River, still only six, thrived on the soft surface.
For a circuit and a half Richard Johnson sat close to the pace set by Emperor’s Choice and then Houblon Des Obeaux, before the champion jockey asserted and with one leap at the fourth-last effectively sealed Native River’s place as only the second Hennessy Gold Cup winner to follow up 70 miles west along the M4 in the same season, Playschool having done the double in 1987.
The gap opened to ten lengths and although it had reduced to less than two from Raz De Maree at the line, it never felt that close. The roar came like it should from a sell-out crowd that had backed Native River into 11-4 favourite.
Tizzard said: “It wasn’t until Richard woke him up in the last mile that he bounded away. Between the fourth- and third-last he must have made up eight lengths. I wondered if he'd hold on but looking back at the rest nothing else was going with him.”
Winner number two
Johnson, bridging the gap between his first Welsh Grand National success 17 years earlier, said: "He is such a hardy horse as the more you ask of him, the more he gives. And after what he has just done he has to be a Cheltenham Gold Cup contender now.
"I was never really that happy with him on the first circuit but as soon as I said 'come on boy' he picked up and had everything beaten. He has to be pretty special to carry that sort of weight and win the way he did.”
Garth and Anne Broom, wrapped in matching purple, yellow and red scarves, got into ownership hoping they might enjoy a win or three at tracks local to the home in Wellington, Somerset.
“It’s like a dream, he’s the horse of a lifetime,” said Garth Broom, a retired dairy and sheep farmer who now has a serious Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, quoted at between 8-1 and 12-1, on his hands.
“We weren’t sure whether to come here or not because we were worried about the weather and I thought we were probably up against it. So I’m glad Colin Tizzard doesn’t take no for an answer.
“He won much easier than we hoped. He’s improved every time he’s run. Richard Johnson said he still hasn’t got to the bottom of him because every time you ask he keeps finding. He’s such a fighter.
“We know he stays so there’s no point doing anything than wearing your heart on your sleeve.
"To be talked of the same breath as horses like Carvill’s Hill and Playschool is amazing. We’ll go for the Gold Cup – the prize-money isn’t bad for finishing second!”
In another year it would have been a winner for Ireland, but Ger Fox, on board the Gavin Cromwell-trained runner-up, conceded: "We have bumped into a really good horse as I was staying on all the time. But I was never going to get to the winner.
"We’re pleased with the run and hopefully he'll now get into the Grand National at Aintree."
He’ll just be hoping Tizzard does not unearth something for that, too.