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.