Odds Stacked Against Native River for Gold Cup Defence

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By Jason Verduzco

Native River produced a fine performance to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season and he will aim to become the first horse to win the event twice in a run since Best Mate in 2004.

The Irish-bred horse rose to the occasion to see off race favourite Might Bite for the crown, surging down the stretch to beat out his rival by four-and-a-half lengths. Colin Tizzard’s charge was in control of the contest and had the pace when it mattered the most to claim the crown.

It has not been easy for horses to repeat success as injuries and a lack of form have prevented the past winners from reclaiming the Gold Cup over the last 14 years. Native River is backed in the latest horse racing betting odds at 9/2 to win the event, although he has been off the pace in his two events since his triumph at Cheltenham Festival last season.

The nine-year-old returned to action in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park. He faced off against an elite field, and although he was competitive down the stretch with Richard Johnson in the saddle, the Irish-bred horse finished four lengths behind winner Bristol De Mai placing in second.

Tizzard entered his charge against his contemporaries in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. He was not the favourite for the event, but again he was solid on the track remaining in contention with the leading group.

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However, when Clan Des Obeaux upped the ante in the closing stages, he was unable to maintain his stride as the French-bred horse claimed the title, while Native River’s stable-mate Thistlecrack finished second in the event.

The nine-year-old does not have form on his side entering the Gold Cup and it does not suggest that he will be able to repeat his success. Few horses have been able to even make a competitive burst at Cheltenham, although the majority of those incidents have been due to injury. The 2017 winner Sizing John missed the entirety of the 2017/18 National Hunt, preventing the defence of his crown.

Kauto Star was the last horse to make a meaningful defence of the Gold Cup. Paul Nicholls’ charge won his first Gold Cup in 2007 by two-and-a-half lengths ahead of Exotic Dancer. He was the favourite for a repeat success in 2008, only to be beaten out by a comfortable margin by his stable-mate Denman. Kauto Star earned his revenge in 2009 as he reclaimed his crown, finishing 13 lengths ahead of Denman.

Kauto Star was one of the legends of the sport and came close to matching the achievements of Arkle, Best Mate and Golden Miller to have won the event three times in a row. If he couldn’t win back-to-back Gold Cups then the odds are well and truly stacked against Native River. The Irish-bred horse has an abundance of talent, but whether he can put it all together again with another flawless performance against a quality field would be a surprise based on his current form.

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