Native River claimed his first victory since his Cheltenham Gold Cup heroics of 2018 with a dominant front-running display in the Virgin Bet Price Boosts Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.
Just four runners went to post for a Grade Two contest that promised a fascinating rematch between the Colin Tizzard-trained Native River and Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite, who fought out an epic finish to the blue riband at Prestbury Park in March, 2018.
Both horses were fitted with differing headgear, with Native River sporting blinkers for the first time and Might Bite with cheekpieces in a bid to rekindle the enthusiasm that was so lacking throughout last season.
The big two went toe to toe from flag-fall, but the contest was effectively over after just four fences, with Might Bite blundering and unseating Nico de Boinville – leaving 5-6 favourite Native River in splendid isolation, with Black Corton and Outlander never in contention.
From that point Native River jumped well in the main, pursued by the riderless Might Bite.
And despite Richard Johnson easing him down to a trot on the run-in, the chestnut gelding still came home with 33 lengths in hand.
The champion jockey said: “The blinkers might have sharpened him up a little bit, but he just definitely felt much more his old self today.
“Last year he only ran three times, really well in three big races. But there was a bit more spark about him today, so it was great.
“Might Bite obviously went early, and it’s good to see they were OK.
“Again, he just had a bit more zip about him today. Cheltenham in March is the obvious main target, but I’m sure he’ll have a couple more runs between now and then.”
Owner Garth Broom was asked about the Grand National, and said: “We’re not ruling it out. The race for him now is the Welsh National.”
Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard confirmed Chepstow on December 27 would be the next port of call for Native River.
He said: Yes (Welsh National) – we’ll make sure he comes out of this all right (first). He’s got a lot of weight in it, and it’ll take a lot of doing.
“As long as this race hasn’t taken more out of him than it visually looked – we’ll make a decision on that in the next week or so – I’d have thought that’s the plan.”
Looking to Aintree in the spring, he added: “They (owners) have come round to the idea (of the National), and he’ll certainly have an entry. (But) we’ll try to run him in another Gold Cup (first), especially if the ground came up on the soft side.”