Richard Johnson: Why I fancy Native River's Gold Cup chances
The champion jockey says he can’t see any reason why he won’t be there at the finish for the big race at Cheltenham next month.
It was fantastic to win the Denman Chase with Native River on Saturday, I really couldn’t have been any happier with him.
He travelled and jumped really well. He’s a horse that likes to be asked a question. I just wanted to get through the first two miles, but when we hit the cross fence five out I asked him to go and he picked up nicely.
I know Saphir Du Rheu was having his first run and is bound to improve for it, but he was fifth in last year’s Gold Cup.
Cloudy Dream is also a decent horse. He was second in an Arkle and was second to Definitly Red at Aintree over three miles last time.
When a staying chaser jumps and travels like Native River did, you know they’re up for it and enjoying life. It also helps that Colin Tizzard’s horses are hitting form at the right time.
It’s very hard to find that calibre of horse. They make our job a lot easier because they’re so talented and have such a fantastic attitude. When you find one you just want to hold onto them and hope that they stay in one piece.
I’m really excited about the Gold Cup now. Hopefully he’s in top form in a month’s time and, if he is, I can’t see any reason why he won’t be there at the finish.
I certainly wouldn’t swap Native River for anything else in the race ( ).
The Tizzard horses were on fire all last season apart from a short spell around the Festival, but he still ran his heart out to finish a close third.
To win a Gold Cup you need everything to go for you. Jessica Harrington’s horses were in great form at last year’s Festival and that may just have tipped the balance in Sizing John’s favour.
He was a very good winner and you certainly can’t discount him, but there is a question mark after his last run.
Everything has revolved around the Gold Cup for Native River this season. It was all about the Hennessy last year, which he won, but he had a busy campaign before arriving at Cheltenham.
I’m not too worried about the ground. They didn’t think he wanted it soft as a youngster, but the stronger he’s got the more he’s gone through it.
He’s very versatile, we’d prefer it good-to-soft and they’ll never let it get too quick at Cheltenham.
I fully respect Might Bite, he’s a very classy horse and travelled so well in the King George. His sire’s offspring improve with age and it seems like he’s really grown up this season.
It’s no surprise he’s favourite. I suppose we know that we stay very strongly and that’s a slight unknown with him.
Most of the others have got something to prove with what they’ve shown this season.
Altior the one in Betway Champion Chase
Altior was brilliant on Saturday. When you were watching him you almost forget that Politologue won the Tingle Creek decisively back in December.
I’m sure Nicky Henderson was delighted and Altior has always looked such a classy horse.
He showed his well-being and he’s going to be incredibly difficult to beat in the Betway Champion Chase [boosted to ].
I was also very impressed with Min last weekend, but I think Altior would have too much speed for him on good ground.
It was very testing on Saturday. He’d had a wind operation and if there was anything suspect with that, he would have struggled in the conditions.
As we all know, Festival form counts for a lot and he’s won at the last two. If they can handle the atmosphere and the course, they’ll normally run well again there.
Saint Calvados a serious Arkle contender
On the subject of impressive performances, you couldn’t not have been impressed with Saint Calvados in the Betway Kingmaker at Warwick and he has to be a very strong fancy for the Arkle now at .
He jumps and travels really well and I knew he was classy when I rode against him at Newbury last month.
That’s what sets these Grade One horses apart from handicappers – they just do everything so easily. When some horses are in fifth gear they haven’t even come out of second.
Rest of Newbury
It was too soft for Hardness in the novices’ hurdle, he’ll be seen in a better light when the ground dries out.
King Uther ran a solid race in the handicap hurdle. He was a bit awkward at one down the back, but then stayed on strongly up the straight.
He’s a real stayer and this was a step up in class for him. I’m sure you’ll see him winning again soon on testing ground over a long trip.
I couldn’t have been happier with Poppy Kay turning in, she was running a big race. She just stopped pretty quickly and it definitely wasn’t her true form.
Philip’s [Hobbs] horses haven’t quite bounced back to form yet like the Tizzards have, but when they do I’m sure there will be lots to get excited about.
Duke Des Champs jumped and travelled nicely. The winner was always in front but I thought we’d pick him up. He just got tired as well, but he’d been off for a very long time before his reappearance over Christmas.
I was very pleased with Brewin’Upastorm in the bumper. He’s a lovely, lovely horse and is sure to be a smart novice hurdler to look forward to next season.
He travelled really smoothly, but the ground had got very testing by the last race. I was very impressed by the winner – to win like that as a four-year-old was very good.
Exeter on Sunday
It was nice to ride a winner for Warren [Greatrex] at Exeter. Lovenormoney certainly isn’t the quickest horse around, but he always tries his best and he outstayed them.
He keeps at it and that’s what you need in ground like that. I thought the handicapper was harsh for his Chepstow win but I was obviously wrong.
Samburu Shujaa ran respectably in the opener, although he jumped quite badly left-handed. We might like to go the other way round next time and he’s sure to be winning soon.
I was very pleased with Verni on his first start over fences. He jumped nicely and probably just bumped into one. The winner was sixth in the 2016 Albert Bartlett and did it well off such a long lay-off.
Verni likes nicer ground, so there should be some options for him in the spring.