Native River: between Thistlecrack and Cue Card in Gold Cup betting
PICTURE:Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
By Mark Storey 8:00AM 21 FEB 2017
HE KEEPS winning and the critics keep wailing – and Native River’s owner Garth Broom will be happy with a dose of the same in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Despite backing up his double in the Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National with victory in the Denman Chase, plenty remain unconvinced the second favourite for jump racing’s greatest prize is Gold Cup-class.
However, Broom is adamant there is nothing to choose between Thistlecrack, Cue Card and his seven-year-old, who he believes as the youngest of the Colin Tizzard-trained trio could be the one with the most improvement to come.
The bonhomie is strong between the three sets of owners in the Tizzard yard responsible for the chief Gold Cup rivals.
But while Cue Card wears the crown of the people’s horse and favourite Thistlecrack is hailed as the dashing novice, Native River, best-priced at 9-2, is the thorn between two roses in the betting as far as some observers are concerned.
Broom, looking forward to his first Gold Cup runner, said: “Some people don’t give him the credit he deserves and seem to knock the form. I think it’s like Marmite, you either love him or hate him. The supporters are very loyal and love him, and his knockers keep trying to pick holes.
“When a horse has won all his races and done his best and people start trying to knock him, as an owner you do get a bit fed up. You feel like saying, ‘You go out and buy one and do better then’. They don’t realise the number of horses you have to buy until a good one comes along.
“I don’t mind constructive criticism, but I don’t like criticism for the sake of it. If a horse has done his best and done nothing wrong it’s a bit unfair if people keep knocking him all the time.”
Native River appeared to do everything right when leading and then accelerating away from his rivals in the Denman Chase this month.
Newbury plan ‘worked ideally’
Broom, who runs his horses under the Brocade Racing banner with partner Anne, added: “Everyone’s been picking the Newbury form apart but the idea was to give him as easy a race as possible. People say one underperformed [Bristol De Mai] and the other was rated 151 [Le Mercurey], but we wanted to give him not much more than a racecourse gallop really and it worked ideally. I didn’t see any point in going out and winning by 20 or 30 lengths, looking impressive and giving the horse a hard race. That’s not the point, is it? It was very satisfactory.”
Despite the speed shown at Newbury, Native River, who became the first horse for 25 years to carry top weight to victory in the Welsh National and the first since Playschool four years before to land that race and the Hennessy in the same season, has been characterised by some as a grinder who was second in the four-miler for amateur riders at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Broom said: “Running in the four-miler proved he stayed. When he won the Mildmay after that there were three festival winners behind, and they were all saying, ‘Oh well, they all had a hard race at Cheltenham’. And I thought, ‘What about him, only getting beaten a length or so over four miles at the festival?’
“The funny thing is, whichever race he wins it seems that everything that turns up against him has underperformed on the day. Let’s hope they do the same in the Gold Cup then.”
Gold Cup runner ‘a dream’
Native River’s next taste of Cheltenham will be with Richard Johnson on board, and Broom said: “He’s a good jumper with a high cruising speed and a long, raking stride. Sometimes other horses are doing three strides to his two. He’s an out-and-out stayer and has got a turn of foot.
“None of us know how good he is. We haven’t got to the bottom of him. This might be as good as he is, but as a seven-year-old he’s getting stronger all the time. He surprises us every time he runs.
“Cue Card looks as good as ever and Thistlecrack hasn’t done a lot wrong. No horse Cue Card’s age has won it for years, but he’s the kind of horse who could.”
Broom, a retired dairy and sheep farmer from Somerset, added: “It’s a dream having a runner in the Gold Cup, let alone a fancied one. But we’ve got to get there yet and you’ve got to keep your feet on the ground.
“We’re all great friends in the stable and will be the first to congratulate others if they win. We just hope we’re the lucky ones.”