London – Native River might be worth supporting in his bid to become the first horse since Best Mate to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in successive years.
Soft ground on Friday will bring Native River’s stamina into play, just as it did 12 months ago, when he outstayed Might Bite on the run-in to take chasing’s blue-riband prize by 4.50 lengths.
He was put away for the season by trainer Colin Tizzard after that triumph, and it is fair to say he has not been at his best in both his runs so far this term.
After playing second fiddle to Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, Native River found the 4800m at Kempton an inadequate test.
He never got into a challenging position, but he did stay on in the closing stages to take third place behind Clan Des Obeaux in the King George.
The latter is seen as a threat to Native River retaining his crown, but there will be more in the champion’s favour this time.
Presenting Percy last jumped a fence in competitive action when winning the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival. His only run since came in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran in January, which he won convincingly, but it is asking a lot of Pat Kelly’s charge to see off the best staying chasers without proper match practice.
Sir Erec has been all the rage for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, but he might just find the battle-hardened Quel Destin too tough a rival on what will be only his third start over jumps.
Paul Nicholls has campaigned Quel Destin with gusto, and the French-bred gelding has delivered in his last five starts – including at this track in November – after finishing second on his British debut.
Quel Destin usually just does enough and finds more when tackled at the business end of his races.
Lisnagar Oscar has shown progressive form through the season, and could be the answer to a typically trappy Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
The Rebecca Curtis-trained six-year-old put up his best performance to date when easily winning a Grade 2 contest at Haydock by 10 lengths.
He also has experience at Cheltenham, when beaten by Rockpoint after a mistake at the final flight put paid to any realistic winning chance.
Western Ryder has not won since lowering Lalor’s colours at Cheltenham in December 2017, but he has been running well in defeat in good company and can land a deserved success in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle.
The Warren Greatrex-trained seven-year-old has a touch of class, as he showed when only beaten four lengths in third place by Brain Power in the International Hurdle here three months ago.
Bun Doran can make his course form count with a prominent display in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.
Sixth in the Close Brothers’ Novices’ Handicap Chase two years ago, Tom George’s eight-year-old was a good winner over 3200m here in November and runner-up a month later.
He has not run since and goes well fresh. – Press Association
SELECTIONS (UK times):
CHELMSFORD: 4.40 Caribbean Spring, 5.20 Lalania, 6.00 Hurricane Alert, 6.30 Shamshon, 7.00 Jack Berry House, 7.30 Pheidippides, 8.00 Irish Times, 8.30 Sea Shack.
CHELTENHAM: 1.30 Quel Destin, 2.10 Western Ryder, 2.50 Lisnagar Oscar, 3.30 NATIVE RIVER (NAP), 4.10 Road To Rome, 4.50 Bun Doran, 5.30 Dallas Des Pictons.
DUNDALK: 5.15 Danz Gift, 5.45 Georgian Bay, 6.15 Carried, 6.45 Sleepy Head, 7.15 Empire Line, 7.45 Pedro De Styles, 8.15 Gougane Barra, 8.45 Isosceles.
FAKENHAM: 1.20 Cliffside Park, 1.55 Cap Du Nord, 2.35 Grand Inquisitor, 3.15 Sideways, 3.55 Potters Midnight, 4.35 Come On Charlie, 5.10 Sir Jack Yeats.
LINGFIELD: 2.20 Dashing Poet, 3.00 Dame Freya Stark, 3.40 Loyalty, 4.20 Klass Action, 5.00 Fearsome, 5.40 Heavenly Tale.
DOUBLE: Native River and Quel Destin.