Native River

At the time of writing, Native River is rated 165+ by Timeform, some 7lb lower than when winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018, but the ‘+’ indicates that he may be better than the respected ratings organisation gives him credit for. It would be fair to say that the nine-year-old endured a slightly disappointing campaign in 2018/19, failing to add to his winning tally, but although beaten, was by no means disgraced in three of the four Grade One staying chases staged in Britain. He finished second, beaten 4 lengths, behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, third, beaten 13½ lengths, behind Clan Des Obeaux in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and fourth, beaten 9¼ lengths, behind Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.


Taken at face value, the latter performance appears to be some way below that in the ‘Blue Riband’ event in 2017, when he finished third, beaten 2¾ lengths and a head, or in 2018, when he beat main market rival Might Bite by 4½ lengths after an epic duel with the runner-up. However, it is worth noting that Native River has recorded his last four wins – in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in December, 2016, the Denman Chase at Newbury in February, 2017 and February, 2018 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, 2018 – all came on soft going.


In the Betfair Chase, run on going that was good, good to soft in places, Native River was, according to his trainer, Colin Tizzard, ‘flat out most of the way’, in the King George VI Chase, run on similar going, the gelding was, once again, under pressure for most of the way before sticking on to finish third and, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, run on good to soft going, could not dominate the field as he had done when victorious in 2018. At the time of writing, Native River is 20/1 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for a second time in 2020 and, if the going were to come up soft at Prestbury Park, the lightly-raced son of Indian River could make those odds look very generous indeed.


In March, 2019, Altior won the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival for the second year running, justifying 4/11 favouritism in workmanlike, rather than spectacular, fashion. In so doing, the nine-year-old equalled the world record for the consecutive number of wins over obstacles, 18, held by four-time Stayers’ Hurdle winner, Big Buck’s. However, just over a month later, Altior contested the Celebration Chase at Sandown – a race he had won for the previous two seasons – and, although once again less-than-imperious, won unchallenged, by 2½ lengths, to beat the aforementioned world record.


Owned by Patricia Pugh and trained by Nicky Henderson, Altior has the distinction of being the highest-rated steeplechaser in training, according to Timeform, with a rating of 180p – the ‘p’ indicating that he is likely to improve still further – and probably rightly so, after an unbeaten run stretching back four complete National Hunt seasons to October, 2015. In fact, Altior his unbeaten over obstacles, large or small, the two defeats in his 21-race career coming in confusingly-titled National Hunt Flat Races on his second and third starts, early in his five-year-old campaign.


Undefeated in five subsequent starts over hurdles, culminating with a 7-length win over Min and stable companion Buveur D’Air in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016, Altior was sent over fences the following November and made a seamless transition to the larger obstacles. He won all six races, including the Arkle Challenge Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival, and the Celebration Chase for the first time, all at long-odds on. In 2017/18, he returned to the Cheltenham Festival to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase for the first time and did so again in 2018/19, allowing Nicky Henderson to equal the record held by Tom Dreaper, with six wins in the two-mile chasing championship.


The only horse to complete a hat-trick in the Queen Mother Champion Chase was Badsworth Boy in 1983, 1984 and 1985, but Nicky Henderson has indicated that the King George VI Chase, over 3 miles, at Kempton may well be on the agenda for Altior in 2019/20, so it remains to be seen what the future holds for the record-breaking ‘chaser.

Tiger Roll

Tiger Roll was once the property of Sheikh Mohammed and, while he never raced for that esteemed owner, it was in a slightly different set of maroon and white silks – those of Gigginstown House Stud owner, Michael O’Leary – that he made his name. Having made a winning debut for Devon trainer Nigel Hawke in juvenile hurdle at Market Rasen in November, 2013, Tiger Roll was bought by O’Leary and sent to Co. Meath trainer Gordon Elliott, with a view to winning the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Two starts later, he won the Grade One Triumph Hurdle, under Davy Russell – with whom he would be famously reunited later in his career – and, despite struggling to make much impression in conditions hurdle races thereafter, also won the National Hunt Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016.


Notwithstanding those two, high-profile victories, Tiger Roll has become a household name by winning the Grand National two years running in 2018 and 2019 – making him the first horse to do so since Red Rum in 1973 and 1974 – both times under Davy Russell. Even before his second Aintree victory, though, Tiger Roll had become a Cheltenham Festival phenomenon, winning the Glenfarclas Country Chase – to take his Festival tally to four races in two different disciplines, over three different distances, in the space of six seasons – in 2018 and 2019.


Once described as a ‘little rat of a thing’ by his owner, Tiger Roll has now won five of his last six starts, including a surprise win, at 25/1 win, over hurdles at Navan in February, 2019 and, while still only a nine-year-old, is unlikely to attempt a Grand National hat-trick. Tiger Roll is 8/1 favourite to win the Aintree marathon for the third year running, but Michael O’Leary has said that he is ‘duty-bound to mind’ his charge and is more inclined to make the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase his main target for the 2019/20 season, followed by an honourable retirement.


Bred and owned by Juddmonte Farms, under the auspices of Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel was the highest-rated horse in the history of Timeform. In 2012, as a four-year-old, Frankel was awarded a provisional Timeform rating of 147 when winning the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot and the Juddmonte International Stakes at York; his Timeform Annual Rating was confirmed in January, 2013, making him the highest-rated horse – 2lb superior to his nearest rival, 1965 Derby winner Sea-Bird – since Timeform published ‘Racehorses of 1948’ in 1949.


Sired by the 2001 Derby winner Galileo, Frankel was named after the late Robert J. ‘Bobby’ Frankel, one of the most successful American trainers of the last fifty years. He made his racecourse debut in a maiden stakes race at Newmarket in July, 2010, winning readily by half-a-length and so embarked upon a career that would see him hailed as, arguably, the best horse in the history of thoroughbred racing.


Frankel won the first of his ten Group One races in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket on his fourth, and final, start as a juvenile, comfortably beating subsequent Criterium International winner Roderic O’Connor by two-and-a-quarter lengths. The following season, having won his preparatory race, the Greenham Stakes at Newbury, by 7 lengths, he was sent off the shortest-priced favourite for the 2,000 Guineas since Apalachee in 1974. Drawn in stall one, on the opposite extreme from his supposed pacemaker, Rerouted, Frankel quickly established a clear lead, which he never relinquished, and passed the post six lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer, Dubawi Gold.


Having put up what was described by one observer as ‘one of the greatest displays on a British racecourse’ – which was greeted by cheering and applause from the knowledgeable crowd fully two furlongs from home – Frankel went on to win another eight races, all at Group One level, to finish his career unbeaten after 14 starts. According to Timeform, he was the best of his generation at two, three and four years, he was named Cartier Two-Year-Old Colt and Cartier Horse of the Year (twice) and, on his retirement from racing in October, 2012, had won nearly £3 million in prize money.

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