Native River can flow to Gold Cup success
Native River is perhaps not a fashionable horse but he looks a rock-solid selection to deliver the goods in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup this afternoon.
The seven-year-old contested the four-mile National Hunt Chase at this meeting last season and while his second was more than respectable, his subsequent Grade One victory over three-miles-and-a-furlong in the Mildmay at Aintree showed his sights should be set a little higher this term.
Colin Tizzard's decision to give him a warm-up over hurdles at Wetherby in October proved most shrewd as Native River was primed to the moment for the Hennessy, in which he posted an excellent performance to see off Carole's Destrier by half-a-length after making his move two fences from home.
The penalty he picked up for that success saw him saddled with 11st 12lb in the Welsh National, but that proved no bar to success as he made a mockery of that weight as he easily held Raz De Maree to put himself in the Cheltenham frame.
He proved very little in winning the Denman Chase other than his well-being, but he is a horse that is clearly adaptable in terms of trip and has proved he can handle both testing ground as well as quicker conditions.
His jumping and stamina is beyond reproach and he should have too many guns for his popular stablemate.
Charli Parcs let down his supporters when crashing out at Kempton last time, but he can make amends for those that keep the faith in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson's charge was odds on to supplement a previous win at the Sunbury venue but he was struggling a fair way out that day, before starting to come back on the bridle approaching the penultimate flight.
Unfortunately he got that obstacle all wrong and his race was over, but he looked likely to put up a good challenge to the reopposing winner Master Blueyes before his mishap.
Barry Geraghty was of the opinion that Charli Parcs was gearing up for a good run and while it was hardly an ideal prep, Charli Parcs still makes plenty of appeal, particularly if the ground remains on the better side.
Death Duty has seemed invincible this term but Augusta Kate can steal his thunder in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
The pair clashed in a Grade One heat at Naas back in January and Augusta Kate was travelling noticeably well in behind before she got the last all wrong, just as she was gearing up to lay down her challenge.
Obviously you can only guess at what might have happened, but she looked to be far from spent before her mistake cost her dearly.
Previously a winner at Thurles, Augusta Kate will be having just her third start over hurdles here but her mares' allowance could prove key in the finish.
The Randox Health County Hurdle is always a keenly contested affair but Dan Skelton is taken to secure back-to-back victories with North Hill Harvey.
Skelton saddled Superb Story to win the race last year and he has had his sights set on this race for the entire season, with North Hill Harvey arriving with just one run to his credit.
He ran out a fine half-length winner of the Greatwood Hurdle on that occasion, travelling supremely well as he had the likes of A Hare Breath and Brain Power in behind.
He actually ran a fine race in last year's Supreme until making a costly mistake two flights from home, while his fourth behind Buveur D'Air at Aintree shows just the touch of class he has.
Admittedly he has an absence to overcome, but Skelton can certainly produce a horse good to go from homework alone.
Velvet Maker finished well down field in last year's Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase but he can right that statistic by winning this time around.
A run over hurdles at Leopardstown last month should have put him spot on for this and the fact he runs off a 3lb lower mark than last year is another bonus.
Dadsintrouble missed the cut for Thursday's Pertemps but can gain swift compensation in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle, while Wonderful Charm can make his class tell in the Foxhunter Chase.
Nap: Native River
Double: Charli Parcs
Treble: Augusta Kate
Yankee: North Hill Harvey