Tizzard bids to fire back as Native River leads powerful team
The Colin Tizzard juggernaut has slowed down in recent weeks but the trainer will be aiming to get back up to speed with a high-class team, led by Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup second favourite Native River, primed for weekend assignments.
Tizzard, this season's surprise package, has not had to wrestle with many setbacks, but following the shock defeat of Thistlecrack in last month's Cotswold Chase he will be hoping to rediscover his magic touch at Newbury on Saturday.
Such is the firepower at the Dorset trainer's disposal, a missed opportunity for one horse opens the door for another and Native River, winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National already this term, will be looking to lay down a significant festival marker in the Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase.
Tizzard said: "He's got to keep improving to win a Gold Cup, no question about it, but he's a thorough stayer and the Gold Cup is often won by that type of horse. He's got as good a chance as any.
"Newbury was always going to be his target as he needs a race before Cheltenham and, while the two-mile-seven trip might be on the sharp side, I'm sure Richard Johnson will keep plenty of pace on."
With Bristol De Mai heading the opposition, that race could turn into a duel - and it could be a similar situation in the same card's Betfair-backed Game Spirit Chase, in which Tizzard is set to field Fox Norton against Altior, who drifted out to a best-priced 10-11 (from 4-6) with Paddy Power on Wednesday.
Fox Norton, second favourite behind Douvan with some firms for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, scored on his first start for Tizzard in the Shloer Chase in November but came out of the race with a cut to his off-fore and has been absent since.
"We've got it all to do with Altior [who gets 5lb] but we schooled him again this morning and he's ready to run as I've been busy with him for a while now," said the trainer, who has not yet set Fox Norton's festival target in stone.
"Douvan is brilliant but you should never be scared of one horse. I suppose we'll go for the Champion Chase but I've got a hankering in my mind he could be a Ryanair horse."
Stable's form not a concern
Tizzard, who has sent out 20 runners without success since Royal Vacation won on trials day at Cheltenham, is not concerned about his overall form.
"Every yard goes a bit quiet now and some of ours have run a bit flat, but we've not had much with really good chances," he said.
He has more big guns to fire at Exeter on Sunday, with Grade 1 Tolworth Novices' Hurdle winner Finian's Oscar in line to feature alongside highly touted stablemate Alary, who also carries the colours of Ann and Alan Potts.
"We're looking to get more experience into Finian's Oscar as he's had only three races in his life and the race fits in well with Cheltenham," said Tizzard. "I'm not sure whether he'll go for the Supreme or the Neptune at this stage. He looks more of a two-and-a-half-miler but then he's not slow and we've decided to wait and see how he fares on Sunday."
Alary, entered for the 3m graduation chase, was talked up as a Gold Cup dark horse before his disappointing display in the Peter Marsh Chase, after which he was found to be coughing.
"A lot was made about that but the mucus was minute and he's been fine ever since," the trainer added. "I'd like to see whether I take him to Cheltenham and he'd nearly need to win to go there.
"He needs to run better than he did at Haydock but I'm sure that's going to happen somewhere because he's a beautiful horse."
Tizzard sits in second place in the trainers' title, more than £300,000 behind Paul Nicholls and in front of Nicky Henderson, but feels he has "no chance at all" of taking the title.
"They have access to 200 horses and, although I've got a pretty good hand in some races, I'll need to win nearly every big one," he said.
On Tuesday Nicholls had nominated Henderson as a bigger danger to him successfully defending the championship, and Henderson was on Wednesday cut into 10-1 (from 16). Tizzard was best at 9-2 (from 4) and Nicholls 1-4 (from 1-5).