Native River landed the 60th Hennessy Gold Cup for Colin Tizzard and Richard Johnson
Native River (Colin Tizzard/Richard Johnson, 7/2 favourite) landed the 60th running of the £200,000 Hennessy Gold Cup (3.10pm), staged at Newbury Racecourse on Saturday, November 26, day two of the bet365 Festival, Hennessy Gold Cup Day.
It was a first success in the Grade Three handicap chase, staged over three and a quarter miles, for both trainer Colin Tizzard and jockey Richard Johnson. Johnson was riding in the race for the 13th time, his best finishing position previously had been second on Spendid (1999) and Planet Of Sound (2011). It was a day to remember at Newbury for the Colin Tizzard team, with a magnificent 26.8/1 treble.
Native River was always in a prominent position and took up the running from Double Ross (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Jamie Bargary (3), 50/1) approaching the last. He then had to face a strong challenge on the run-in from the strongly-finishing Carole’s Destrier (Neil Mulholland/Noel Fehily, 25/1) but held on to score by half a length in a thrilling finish with Double Ross a further five lengths back in third.
Colin Tizzard said: “Everything was right for Native River today and we expected a big run. I think he travelled better today than he ever has and he jumped beautifully. He only just won in the end but I can’t believe it.
“Nowadays, we don’t take horses for three-mile gallops, we just work them on our system. Loading him up this morning, I made a point of being there when he loaded up and he looked fine. Everything was right today – good ground, a flat left-handed track and it was a big race.
“He wouldn’t be the fastest on the gallops. He actually won a gallop last year and we were terrified. Richard said that he went clear and looked like he was going to win by almost five lengths at one time but then the other nearly got to him and he went again. That’s the sign of a good, honest, strong stayer.
“He had a tough race at Wetherby last time which put him right for this. I don’t know where we go from here. If he was in the same form as this in March, we would have to think about the Gold Cup. Hennessy winners are often right up there with the best of them so we would have to consider it.”
Speaking about his tremendous season so far, Tizzard continued: “I just really have to keep the handbrake on everything.
“Joe (son) is a good boy while my daughter Kim is a big player in the operation too. We tried to make a farmer of Joe, so that he does that in his sleep and eventually can do the horses as well too.
“I thought we were in good form last year but have taken off again this season and I am enjoying it. I didn’t really think of the pressure until I got here today and everyone was saying good luck to me.
“I don’t really have the time to get worried. It is just fantastic.”
Richard Johnson said: “People keep telling me how I had never won this race, so it is always nice to get one that you haven’t done before. He is a fantastic horse and Colin, Joe and the whole team – their horses are in amazing form.
“You have to come around the water jump on the run-in and he was just having a good look. I knew that he would pick up again but you are just worried that something comes and does you late on.
“I was a bit worried that I wasn’t going that well turning in but he is one of the horses that, the more you ask, the more he gives. He won a Grade One over fences last season, had a great run over hurdles the other day and has won a Hennessy off 11st, so he is going the right way.
“He is a very good horse and good horses make jockeys’ lives easier because they can jump, they can travel and they put you in the right position. I don’t see any reason why he doesn’t deserve thoughts of the Gold Cup because he stays and jumps. We have seen over the years that a stayer who jumps well will always tend to run a good race in the Gold Cup. It depends what the handicapper says – that is the most important thing now.
“The Hennessy is one of the highlights of the National Hunt season and I have been second in it a couple of times. I was worried 50 yards before the post but he found more when he needed to.
Earlier in the afternoon Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard/Tom Scudamore, 1/8 favourite) made it three from three over fences with an imperious display in the Grade Two bet365 Novices’ Chase (12.55pm) over just short of three miles.
The eight-year-old, winner of last season’s World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, put up his best display of jumping to date. Making all the running, he saw off the challenges of first Ibis Du Rheu (Paul Nicholls/Nick Scholfield, 6/1) and then Bigbadjohn (Rebecca Curits/Jonathan Moore, 7/1) as he came home eight lengths clear.
Colin Tizzard said: “I don’t think it gets any better than that, does it? He was immaculate today. Apparently he was only just outside the course record – they must have brought the bends in or something.
“”He was brilliant today. Any fears that we had from Cheltenham were put to bed. We came here because of what went on at Cheltenham. He was a bit sketchy then but was immaculate today. It is experience, that’s all it is. We needed to get some runs into him before whatever we are going to do after Christmas.
“He gives his fences plenty of daylight but that is better than going fast and low at them. He learnt from his run at Cheltenham. You can school them lots at home but they still need racecourse experience. Maybe I am just getting him fit now too!
“I wouldn’t have thought he’d be ready to go for the King George (Kempton Park, Boxing Day) but we will leave him in the race for a while yet, just in case.”
Tom Scudamore added:”It was a great thrill. Joe [Tizzard] said that we were three seconds outside the track record and Thistlecrack never came out of second gear! He has jumped brilliantly today. There are more tests to come obviously and he has got to step up and take on better horses but he was pretty good on this occasion.
“I think everyone was a bit harsh on him at Cheltenham. He made one mistake there and, if you watch him at the next ditch, he has got some height at it and has gone that far out the other side. He is a quick learner and I think it was just a case of him being full of himself that day. After that mistake, he backed off his fences.
“He was superb today. He has really learnt from the last time and keeps on learning. He is a very fast learner and, even at this early stage, he is something different.”
Thistlecrack (7/2 with bet365) is ante-post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March ahead of his stable companion Cue Card (5/1 with bet365). Native River is a 14/1 chance for the same race with bet365.
Team Tizzard was also on the mark in the concluding race of the afternoon, when Ultragold (Colin Tizzard/Tom O’Brien, 9/2) survived a bad blunder two out to land the extended two-mile bet365 Handicap Chase by half a length from Parsnip Pete (Tom George/Adrian Heskin, 7/1).
Tizzard said: “He had a dirty nose a couple of days after he ran in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, where he ran a bit flat.
“He has shown today that with a bit of luck he is a decent horse. He has only just got up today, so may get two and a half miles but there is no need to step up in distance with him at the moment. We bought him in France – his dam is a sister to First Gold.”
Tom O’Brien said: “I did think it was race over but he was very tough and game to come back. I was getting there plenty soon enough but, when you make a mistake like that, you do think that it is race over but he was very game.”
The crowd on Hennessy Gold Cup Day in 2016 was 17,966, the second highest in the last 20 years after last year’s total of 18,121 racegoers.
Andy Clifton, Head of Communications at Newbury Racecourse, said: “It was another fantastic Hennessy Gold Cup Day with the large crowd treated to a fantastic display from Native River in the big race.
“To have Thistlecrack also win on the same card for the Colin Tizzard team was just tremendous and it has been a great day all round.”
Grandstand Admission refund for 500 lucky racegoers
Ahead of the bet365 Festival, Newbury Racecourse ran the “HGC Favourite Money Back Offer” which offered the first 500 racegoers booking Grandstand Tickets their money back if the favourite won the Hennessy Gold Cold Cup.
As the 7/2 favourite Native River prevailed, each racegoer will be refunded the £35 ticket cost.
Round-up of the rest of the action
12.20pm Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Listed Race) 2m 69y
Favourite backers got off to the perfect start when La Bague Au Roi (Warren Greatrex/Harry Bannister, 5/4 favourite) landed the opening Listed Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
The five-year-old made every yard of the running to score by three and a half lengths. She faced a strong challenge from Dusky Legend (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson, 11/8) two flights from home but kept on resolutely.
Winning trainer Warren Greatrex said: “She was good today. It is not ideal that she had had to make her own running again and she will be better on better ground. She is really starting to mature
“She will stay two and a half miles and her jumping is so slick. She is tall and leggy and needs to get into her stride, so there was no point in making it a crawl. I think she will be better with a lead and I don’t think the ground was ideal either.
“She is becoming the finished article and her jumping was brilliant. Harry was fantastic on her. It was a big pressure for him today and he came through it with flying colours. I have never hidden the fact of how good I think she is and I think she is going to get better and better. I think the world of her.
“I will speak to the owners but I would say that will be it for the winter. We wanted to get three runs in before the winter and I would say that she will go away now for a spring campaign. I don’t know whether we will head straight to Cheltenham or have a run beforehand. She deserves a crack at it and, on the evidence that she is showing, she is going to have a good chance.She has proved today she is pretty smart.”
Harry Bannister added: “She is a very good mare and, when they are that good, it makes my job a lot easier. She has jumped very well – she is getting a lot better every time she runs – and she is very slick.
“I was a little bit worried about the ground today but she went on it fine. She will be better on better ground but she has gone on most ground. She is obviously a very exciting horse to have in the yard and I am very grateful to have a chance to ride her.
“She will probably stay two and a half miles but she has the speed for two as she has just shown. She makes it all quite easy from my point of view – she gives what you ask her first. She would be one of the best horses that I have ridden.”
1.30pm Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase 2m 6f 93y
O Maonlai (Tom George/Adrian Heskin, 12/1) was the five-length winner of the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase, a race in which he finished second 12 months ago.
He was delivered with a perfectly-timed run from off the pace by Adrian Heskin to take up the running at the second last and ran on well to score by five lengths from Warriors Tale (Paul Nicholls/Sean Bowen, 10/1).
Tom George said: “It is a great when a plan comes off. He was second in this race last year and it was the plan to come back.
“Today was the first time that Adrian has ridden him. I don’t normally spend five minutes telling him what to do but he carried his ride out to perfection.
“If you have him too close, he is too keen but, if he is too far back, he can say ‘after you’. Adrian has him in second last at the end of the back of straight, crept away and arrived on the scene.
“He is not straightforward. He promised to be a good horse as a young horse in Ireland but it has taken a while for everything to come right for him. This race was the plan for him.
“I am not sure where we will go now. He is not a Cheltenham Festival horse but loves it as Newbury, it is his type of track.”
Adrian Heskin added: “I didn’t get to sit on him at home but Tom told me every detail about the horse and he had it down to perfection. It was his first run for 197 days off and he is bound to improve a little bit for it. Getting his head in front will be a great confidence boost for the horse after his last couple of runs.
“He will handle any type of ground and will able to step into those decent handicaps through the winter. Tom seems to have a handle on him now and he just might be on the upgrade.”
2.05pm bet365 Handicap Hurdle 2m 4f 118y
Onefitzall (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson, 7/2) was the winner of the bet365 Handicap Hurdle. Always in a prominent position, he took the lead two out and kept on stoutly to see off Gibralfaro (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson, 9/1) by a length.
Philip Hobbs said: “He ideally wants further or more give in the ground than he got today. We also had him in the three-mile race here yesterday but decided to come here.
“I would say he has managed to win today but he needs more in terms of his distance or going to bring his stamina into play.
“He probably lost his confidence a bit at the end of last season and never really travelled at Carlisle last time but he was much better today.
“He has only had six runs, so he hasn’t done that much and we will probably get him qualified for the Pertemps Final now. Three miles will be his job long-term and he will also jump fences too.”
Richard Johnson commented: “Onefitzall had only had four runs over hurdles. I thought we were all going to kick off the bend but I have actually jumped three out really well and got there. Then he has idled but I know that he stays really well. He is a horse that we have always thought a lot of and hopefully he can keep improving.
“The ground has dried a little bit today and it wasn’t a fast-run race but stamina is his forte and, luckily enough, he has pulled it out of the fire. He is a three-mile chaser in the future but is a nice horse to go to war with this season.”
2.40pm Listed bet365 Intermediate Handicap Hurdle 2m 69y
Who Dares Wins (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson, 4/1) took the bet365 Intermediate Handicap Hurdle, winning by an ultimately comfortable nine lengths from Theligny (Tim Vaughan/Alan Johns (3), 17/1).
It was Theligny’s stable companion Makethedifference (Charlie Deutsch (5), 33/1) that set a strong gallop and the outsider was still in front at the second last. However, he was soon hauled in by Who Dares Wins, who stayed on well after the last.
Alan King said: “He wants a strong gallop. I started get a bit worried until he started to close up at the second last.
“Last time out he got only to the second at Cheltenham. It was just one of those unfortunate thing but he has schooled well since.
“We will see what the handicapper does on Tuesday but as he is a horse that wants a strongly-run two miles, we could look at the Ladbroke at Ascot just before Christmas. No doubt Henry [Ponsonby], head of the winning syndicate will have his own ideas.”
Wayne Hutchinson added: “I came off Who Dares Wins at the second at Cheltenham, when he made a mistake and fired me out the front, so thankfully we have put everything right for the owners today.
“Charlie Deutsch slipped the field and I was travelling happily enough. We decided to stay down the inner because there is a fresh strip of ground there but I got hemmed in. I have had to come round horses and, from three out, I was thinking: ‘God, I hope he stops’. I have asked him for a gear going to the second last and he has got there comfortably. It was a good performance.”