Thistlecrack faces his big moment of truth
NATIVE River and Might Bite engage in a fascinating rematch in the Betfair Chase at Haydock today.
The Colin Tizzardtrained Native River saw off Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite in a pulsating Cheltenham Gold Cup in March in the testing conditions at Prestbury Park.
The dry weather ensuring a sound surface on Merseyside this weekend, makes the classy Might Bite a hot favourite to turn the tables.
However, Joe Tizzard – assistant to his father – is hoping Native River can confirm his superiority.
He said: “It has always been the plan to go straight to Haydock. He has been back in since the middle of July and hasn’t missed a day, touch wood.
“We could have run him again after the Gold Cup as he came out of it well, but he jarred himself the season before and we didn’t want to take any risks.
“We turned him out, he has had a proper preparation for this season and we can’t wait to run him.”
Tizzard believes it would be folly to pigeonhole Native River as just a mud lark. He added: “He is a very good mover. He has been given this brand that he is a slogger, but he has got a bit of class as well.
“He is as tough as they come. We probably put him into that bracket (as a slogger) in his novice days and we thought Dicky (Richard Johnson) would suit him as he would keep sending him on.
“But even when he won on him first time out, he said he is better than that. I think he showed that when he won at Newbury last season.”
The Tizzards have a strong second string to their bow in the form of Thistlecrack.
The 10-year-old looked well placed to dominate the division after winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton two years ago, but well-publicised injury problems have restricted him to just three subsequent starts.
He has not been seen in competitive action since finishing fourth behind Might Bite when defending his King George crown last Christmas, but connections hope he can prove he is no back number on Saturday.
Tizzard said: “We were always fighting a battle with him last season physically. We thought he ran a good race in the King George, but he was sore coming out of it and he had a stress fracture in his hind leg.
“Are we going to get him back to his old self ? At home we think we’ve got him virtually there – it’s whether or not he can do it on the course.”
Might Bite rounded off the last campaign with a dominant display at Aintree and Henderson reports him firing on all cylinders.
He said: “He’s never been better – he’s in terrific form – and I don’t see why Haydock won’t suit him.
“You could say three and a quarter miles around Cheltenham isn’t as ideal as an easy three miles, which I think is his perfect scene.
The Nigel TwistonDavies-trained Bristol De Mai was a 57-length winner of last year’s Betfair Chase – albeit in demanding ground.
Jockey Daryl Jacob said: “I’m looking forward to it. He was a very good winner of the last race, when obviously the ground was a lot different to what it will be on Saturday.
“He did run well on good ground behind Might Bite at Aintree in the spring.”
The line-up is completed by Clan Des Obeaux, who bids to provide Paul Nicholls with a seventh Betfair Chase success.
The Ditcheat maestro saddled Kauto Star to win the race four times and also struck twice with Silviniaco Conti.
He said: “Clan Des is an improving young horse, though he does have it all to do in this race.
“He is at the same stage of his career as Kauto Star was when he won his first Betfair Chase.
“He is an improving sixyear-old with time on his side. We are looking forward to running him.”
Can he come back? Thistlecrack