Paul Nicholls was the last trainer to enjoy successive wins at the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Nicholls won three races in a row as his two charges Kauto Star and Denman won the event between 2007 and 2009. Since then the success has been spread around the field, although Colin Tizzard made his breakthrough last season when Native River claimed the crown at the second time of asking as he saw off Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite in the prestigious race.
The Irish horse put forward an excellent performance and appears to be on course to defend his crown unlike his predecessor Sizing John, who was unable to compete in 2018. Tizzard could have two cracks to secure back-to-back win as Thistlecrack has also proven his quality and is in line to compete at the Gold Cup against his stable-mate. Both horses have the talent, although Native River is the stronger candidate in the Cheltenham festival 2019 betting odds at 6/1 to take the Gold Cup. Native River initially suffered disappointment in his first attempt at the Gold Cup. He was a good shout for the title in 2017 just behind Djakadam, but was beaten down the stretch by the pace of Sizing John, who was able to pull away from the Irish horse and Minella Rocco to claim the win. He was absent from the track for almost a year, making his return in February 2018 at the Denman Chase. In a limited field, the eight-year-old was dominant at Newbury, running away from his nearest rival Cloudy Dream to record a 12-length triumph.
The result sent Native River into the Gold Cup with momentum and he was able to control the race from start to finish. He and Might Bite duelled down the final straight, although the bay gelding had more than enough pace to kick out away from the challenge to ease over the line by a comfortable margin. Native River returned to action for the 2018/19 season at the Betfair Chase, and although he put forward a solid performance, the speed of Bristol De Mai caught him off guard, losing by four lengths to the French horse. It could be a concern for Tizzard moving forward into the campaign. The other contender in Tizzard’s yard,Thistlecrack, was also in action in the Betfair. He placed third behind Bristol De Mai and Native River, finishing narrowly behind his stable-mate. Injuries have kept him out of the last two Cheltenham Festivals, last appearing at the event in 2016 when he produced a fine performance to win the Ryanair Hurdle. He has not been the same competitor since returning to action in 2017, failing to win any of his last four races. Tizzard’s charge finished second in the Trial Cotswold Chase in January 2017, losing out by a head down the stretch to Many Clouds, who launched a comeback to beat him out on the line. Whether the 10-year-old can rekindle his old magic remains to be seen. However, it’s a positive that Tizzard has two excellent horses to call on for the Gold Cup as he eyes successive wins.