Native River will be in full flow next season – and so will Thistlecrack
Native River will start the defence of his Gold Cup title before Christmas but will have competition from within his own stable, with trainer Colin Tizzard expecting a fully recovered Thistlecrack to challenge for many of the same races.
Native River made just one appearance before he beat Might Bite to claim a first Cheltenham Gold Cup for the stable, while Thistlecrack, the 2016 King George VI Chase winner, has not run since finishing third at Kempton last December.
But as Native River took part in the parade of champions at Sandown on Saturday Tizzard said he had his eye on Wetherby's Charlie Hall Chase and the Betfair Chase at Haydock for one or both horses early in the 2018-19 campaign.
"We'll try to do a couple before Christmas," he said. "I'm sure Haydock will come into consideration. Whether we need to do what Cue Card did and go to Wetherby I'm not sure, but it would be nice to think we can run Native River four or five times next season. We're gunning to try to win the next Gold Cup with him."
Tizzard continued: "Thistlecrack is back in the field now. He's going to have six weeks out. He looks brilliant. I don't think he's gone. He wasn't beaten far in the King George and was lame afterwards. I'm sure he's just as good.
"He's the one who almost certainly will go to Wetherby. There's no reason why he shouldn't do those same races. He's a brilliant horse and there's no reason why he shouldn't be back at his best for another season."
Despite a memorable campaign Tizzard missed out on the end-of-season accolades dished out at Sandown, with Nicky Henderson (trainer), Richard Johnson (jockey), James Bowen (conditional) and JP McManus (owner) receiving their champion prizes.
There was, however, a special ovation for the Tizzard-trained Cue Card, who completed his own lap of honour and parade in front of the stands, with Tizzard having no regrets about retiring the hugely popular 12-year-old.
"He's shown us for the last six weeks he wasn't what he was," he said. "It gave me immense pleasure to watch everyone enjoy him today for what he's done. He's been doing his stuff at the very top level for eight seasons.
"I'm chuffed we've gone through his racing career and got him here to take home. He had a couple of crushing falls at Cheltenham, came through that, and I'm glad we didn't make any foolish attempts to run him today."
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