Native River denies Henderson historic treble in Gold Cup thriller

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Cheltenham (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Native River produced a stunning front-running performance to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and deny trainer Nicky Henderson a historic treble on Friday.

Given a brilliant ride by champion jockey Richard Johnson, he and Henderson's favourite Might Bite fought out a thrilling duel throughout the race.

However, just as Might Bite loomed to produce a final challenge, Native River's preference for the testing conditions told and Johnson eased him to victory.

Henderson had trained the winners of the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase earlier in the week.

For Johnson it had been a long wait since his previous win in the 'blue riband' of jumps racing having won on Looks Like Trouble in 2000.

"This horse is amazing, he jumps for fun," said Johnson, his face wreathed in smiles.

"Its a long time to wait 18 years!

"Those are two brave horses, but I was pleased that Might Bite kept me company."

His trainer Colin Tizzard -- who had tried and failed to win the race on several occasions with his iconic star Cue Card -- was overcome with emotion in what was a terrific training performance having nursed the winner back from a ligament injury.

"Unreal, it's the race that everyone wants to win no matter what they might say," said Tizzard.

"I recall coming here aged 17 with hair down to my shoulders and wishing one day I would have a runner.

"Little did I realise I would train the winner!

"I never thought in my biggest dreams that I would win a Gold Cup. If you ask me again I think I'll start crying.

"Richard Johnson was as good as the horse."

Tizzard, who was a dairy farmer before turning to training full time, was accompanied onto the podium -- where the Cup was presented by Princess Anne -- by two generations of his family including grandson Freddie.

Garth Broom, co-owner of the winner with his wife Ann, was ecstatic.

"If I'm dreaming, don't wake me up!" he said.

"We've been second and third with him at the Festival and now we have arrived in the right place (the winner's enclosure)!"

Henderson took defeat in his stride, the 67-year-old Englishman used to the highs and lows of the sport.

"Look he might have got his nose in front after the last but fair play to the other horse," said Henderson.

"Two great horses. They put their heads down and locked horns.

"Native River is a heck of a stayer but it has still been a hell of a week."

Behind the first two, Anibale Fly ran a cracker at long odds (33/1) to finish third.

However, his more feted fellow Irish rivals failed to shine with second-favourite Our Duke never looking at ease and being pulled up 10 fences from home.

Irish trainer Willie Mullins -- six-time a runner-up -- will also have to wait another year to finally win a Gold Cup as none of his quartet looked like breaking the jinx.