'River' strikes Gold for Tizzard and Johnson
Native River proved an indomitable force in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old was sidelined for the best part of the year after finishing third in last year's renewal, but made an impressive return in the Denman Chase at Newbury last month and was a 5/1 shot to go two places better in the blue riband.
Champion jockey Richard Johnson appeared determined to make it a test from flag-fall, asking last season's Welsh Grand National hero for some extravagant leaps while setting a searching gallop.
The King George winner and 4/1 favourite Might Bite was the only one able to lay a glove on Native River from a long way out and looked set to claim the crown after looming alongside early in the home straight.
But Native River refused to buckle and after a titanic tussle up the hill, it was Native River which powered four-and-a-half lengths clear with Anibale Fly running a gallant race four lengths back in third.
"It's unreal. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is everything in everyone's life and there's no pretending it's not," Tizzard said.
"Richard Johnson was galloping as fast as he could and jumping as fast as he could all the time and the horse never let him down once. I can't believe it. It doesn't get better, does it?"
Johnson was riding his second Gold Cup winner, 18 years on from his triumph aboard Looks Like Trouble.
"Eighteen years seems a long time," quipped England's champion jockey. "I'm speechless. He's been a fantastic horse for me and I was lucky to pick up the ride on him.
"You need a brave horse that stays and jumps to win a Gold Cup and that was what he was today."
There was a sting in the tail for Johnson who picked up a seven-day whip ban and a fine of £6,550.
Tony Martin was thrilled with the performance of Anibale Fly.
He said: "We're all delighted with him. He ran a lovely race at Christmas and we thought he was definitely a horse with a chance for the Irish Gold Cup and here. I'd say he's come across two good ones today, but he's run a blinder."
Native River sealed a double for Tizzard, with Kilbricken Storm having caused a 33/1 upset in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle under of Harry Cobden.