A possible re-run of the 2018 Gold Cup is on the cards in the Virgin Bet Price Boosts Many Clouds Chase at Aintree – with Native River taking on Might Bite again.
The two served up a duel for the ages at Prestbury Park last year when Colin Tizzard’s Native River held off the 2017 King George winner, trained by Nicky Henderson.
It is fair to say their careers have not gone as planned since – and although Native River did run well in defeat in both the Betfair Chase and the Gold Cup last season, Might Bite completely lost his way.
Native River reappears with a change in headgear on Saturday, blinkers replacing his usual cheek-pieces.
“He’s worn the cheek-pieces for a long time now, so we’re switching to a small set of blinkers,” said assistant trainer Joe Tizzard.
“It’s just to keep him concentrating more than anything. He was placed in all his races last year, so you couldn’t say he ran badly.
“This is a lovely starting place for him, with no penalty, and he seems in really good form.
“We’ll see what happens tomorrow, but the Welsh National is the plan if he runs over Christmas. We took him out of the King George, because Kempton is too sharp for him, and we mentioned Ireland – but his owners want to stay over here.”
Champion jockey Richard Johnson is, as ever, looking forward to getting back on one of his favourite horses.
“He’s been a fantastic horse for me, and it’s great to see him back,” he said.
“It looks an ideal opportunity, and he was impressive in the novice chase there a couple of years ago.
“The switch in headgear is just a change. He’s getting older and wiser – but with the small field, it looks a good place to start.
“He wasn’t beaten far last year but he never quite fired as he did the year before – but he had a hard race in the Gold Cup the year before.
“He only had three runs last year, but they were all good, and he never got his ground.”
Might Bite’s connections are approaching the race from a different mindset after such a disappointing campaign last season.
Part-owner David Minton said: “I’m heading to the sales at Deauville, so I will miss it unfortunately, but I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on.
“The track obviously suits him, because when he won the Bowl there a couple of years ago he was very good.
“It’s the ideal race for him to start off. Nicky has put the cheek-pieces on, and (jockey) Nico (de Boinville) has been happy with his schooling.”
Expectations are tempered, however.
Minton added: “As long as he comes back to something like his best and runs respectably, we’ll be happy.
“Both he and Native River escape any penalty, because neither of them won a race last year – which after the year they had prior to that, is hard to believe.
“It would be great to see them have a duel again, but there’s Black Corton too. It will be interesting to see how they ride him.”
Former Gordon Elliott inmate Outlander, now with Richard Spencer, completes the four-runner field.