The 2018 Cheltenham Festival may have resulted in an Irish invasion but the biggest race of them all, the Timico Gold Cup, went to the home side courtesy of “warrior” Native River, who relished the soft going.
The Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old made all the running under champion jockey Richard Johnson, jumping impeccably from pillar to post.
The 4/1 favourite Might Bite was always pressing the eventual winner throughout and was given a patient ride by Nico de Boinville. However, when asked by his jockey, the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding had nothing more to give and was outstayed by Native River — finishing four-and-half lengths in second.
It was a poignant victory for the Tizzard team following a particularly quiet season and Cue Card’s exit in yesterday’s Ryanair Chase. It was also a quick-fire double on the day after 33/1 shot Kilbricken Storm’s win in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle preceding the Gold Cup.
It was a second Gold Cup victory for Richard Johnson, 18 years after he won aboard Looks Like Trouble in 2000.
“It’s been a long 18 years! To be honest, I was a passenger — he’s a fantastic horse to ride. He loves jumping and almost waits for things in front and just does what he has to,” said Richard.
“From four out onwards he just kept picking up. I could see Might Bite next to me and going to two fences out he looked to be travelling quite well, but I knew Native River is a stayer and I felt we had to try to give him as much to do as possible. He answered every call and at the last he was very brave.
“Up the run-in he just kept going. It was very testing conditions out there — I’m not sure we will see them as testing again, but he’s a warrior and it’s a pleasure to ride him.”
Bridget’s first Festival win
Conditional jockey Bridget Andrews enjoyed her first Cheltenham Festival victory in today’s Grade Three Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle.
Partnering the 33/1 outsider Mohaayed for trainer Dan Skelton, with whom she is based, Bridget rode a confident race and they finished strongly up the hill.
After the line, Bridget’s partner and fellow jockey, Harry Skelton, was full of praise and congratulations, even celebrating as he passed the post in fifth. The jockey had chosen Spiritofthegames over Mohaayed, because the ground was not thought suitable for the eventual winner.
“Unbelievable,” said Bridget. “I thought Mohaayed had no chance in the ground and obviously Harry went against him and chose Spiritofthegames, who I was a little bit gutted to not be on.
“That’s my best moment in racing by a million per cent. My horse has given me a dream ride and Harry actually gave me a shout coming down the hill to take a pull and go steady.”
Pacha pulls it out the bag again
The Paul Nicholls-trained Pacha Du Polder once again took the limelight in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, following his victory twelve months ago under Bryony Frost.
This time under Harriet Tucker, the 11-year-old gelding made good progress up the Cheltenham hill to win by a neck from Top Wood.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) expresssed sympathy after Sandsend (Willie Mullins) had to be put down when appearing to lose his footing between the final two flights in the County Hurdle, while Dresden (Henry Oliver), Some Plan (Henry de Bromhead) and North Hill Harvey (Dan Skelton) died following falls in the Grand Annual Chase, which was the final race on the card.