Friday 24 November 2017

Native River can deliver on Festival road

Native River (Richard Johnson) wins the Welsh National Chepstow. Picture: Edward Whitaker
Native River (Richard Johnson) wins the Welsh National Chepstow. Picture: Edward Whitaker

Wayne Bailey

Like him or loath him, Donald Trump knows how to grab the headlines and there's been so much written about him in the short space since he's become US president trees in the rainforests must be under threat at this stage for the need for paper.

Most people in Ireland seem to hate the guy but to give him some credit all he's actually doing is implementing the policies he promised before the election - which I guess is something we are not quite used to in this country!

With all this fuss about Trump, I was reading a bit about former US presidents to see if there's been anyone quite like him before, although I think it's safe to say he's unique.

While leafing through one book, I came across a statesman by the name of John Hay, who had various roles in a distinguished career including stints working for Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

Hay, it seems, was an intelligent bloke and in a reference to gambling, he remarked that "true luck consists not in holding the best of the cards at the table; luckiest is he who knows just when to rise and go home."


Despite the fact that it was a profitable day for this column last week, which included bets on Lord Of The Island (10/1) and Decorated Knight (9/2), I made the fatal mistake of staying at the table, the Newcastle table that is, and gave a good chunk of the winnings back to the old enemy on the evening all-weather.

I won't give you the gory details but let's just say the monkey (€500) I had in my pocket in winnings at 3.30 was reduced by about 50% by close of business.

It's not that they were undisciplined bets - I quite fancied the three runners I backed - but my staking was greater than it should be, having been handed some crisp new notes earlier in the day.

It happens to the best of us I suppose, but I'm kicking myself for not sticking to the plan. So, even though I finished the day in front, I still feel a little bit on the back foot this weekend.

Perhaps Native River can put that right in the three-runner Betfair Denman Chase (2.25 Newbury), albeit at a restrictive price of even-money.

Now as short as 4/1 in places for next month's Gold Cup at Cheltenham, the Colin Tizzard-trained gelding defied top-weight to win the Welsh Grand National last time and that came on the back of success in the Hennessy Gold Cup, so he's certainly in form back over fences although he still would have a lot to make up with stablemate Thistlecrack.

It's fair to say that the Welsh Grand National was not exactly a vintage renewal but what impressed me most was how Native River found plenty when asked to go clear by Richard Johnson.

While today's 2m7f might be a little short for a dour stayer, Newbury is one of the fairest tracks in Britain and it allows true talent to shine.

Main rival Bristol De Mai shouldn't be far behind. Now rated 166 (was 154) following a 22-length win in the Peter Marsh Chase last time out, he jumps really well, although, if the assessor has called this correctly, he's still a couple of pounds inferior to the selection.

Shortly after on the all-weather at Lingfield, consider backing My Target, which is expected to go off around 2/1 in the six-runner Handicap (3.10).

Michael Wigham's Cape Cross gelding has a fantastic record at the course which reads 3122111 and he proved as good as ever here last time when winning a handicap with any amount in hand.

The result of that race was almost exactly the same as a couple of weeks previous with four of the top five finishing in the same position and if that suggests that the all-weather can be a bit boring with the same horses running around, at least some of them are consistent.

The handicapper has reacted by putting him up 6lbs to 97 but he's thriving at the moment and that weight might not be enough to hold him back at his favourite course.

Alfred Hutchinson should give the selection the most to worry about. He also has a good record at Lingfield and won off this mark of 100 in early January.

Getting back to Newbury, The Game Spirit Chase (3.0) looks like a straight-forward penalty kick for Altior, but the faint hearted might want to look away now as he's expected to go off as short as 4/7.

Nicky Henderson knows the sort it takes to win this race, having saddled French Opera and Sprinter Sacre to victory in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and the selection has now gone nine races unbeaten, including a memorable success in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.

I thought Henderson would keep him over timber for a while but he sent him over fences in November and he took to it like a duck to water. He's now won three novice chases, including a Grade One, and looks the real deal although this will be his toughest task to date, now racing outside of novice company.


We've a quality card at Leopardstown tomorrow including four Grade One races, and this fixture often gives the Cheltenham markets a shake.

The Irish Gold Cup (4.0) looks quite average this year and the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Poli has to be the call.

Third in the Gold Cup when trained by Willie Mullins, the Gigginstown gelding ran really poorly in his first run for Elliott but it was a different story in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown when second to Outlander in a good quality renewal.

He beat a couple of today's runners on that occasion and his main rival would appear to be last year's winner Carlingford Lough.

The 11-year-old has a lot of miles on the clock but was given a spin over hurdles at Navan last month to shake off the cobwebs and he seemed in reasonably good shape in fourth.


At least eight of the 16 runners in the Betfair Hurdle (3.35 Newbury) have claims which makes it a difficult one to decipher.

I was initially going to back Alan King's William H Bonney, which looks well-in at the weights. He carries a 5lb penalty for his recent win at Cheltenham and could have more to come.

However, at odds of 10/1 or thereabouts, I've decided to side with Song Light, representing Seamus Mullins under jockey Kevin Jones who claims 5lbs.

A dual flat and hurdle animal, one bookmaker told me that some rather large each-way bets were landed when he came third in a Grade Three handicap at Cheltenham in November.

Weekend Selections

2.25 Newbury: Native River

2.40 Warwick: Gino Trail

3.0 Newbury: Altior

3.10 Lingfield: My Target

3.35 Newbury: Song Light (e/w)

7.15 Wolverhampton: Ceyhan

4.0 Leopardstown: Don Poli (Sun.)

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