Native River's flowing performance strikes gold for Tizzard


Cheltenham (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Colin Tizzard dreamt as a "long-haired 17-year-old" of having a runner in the Cheltenham Gold Cup -- on Friday he trumped that by training the winner Native River.

Given a brilliant ride up front by champion jockey Richard Johnson, he fought out a thrilling duel with favourite Might Bite before outstaying him in the testing conditions to take the 'blue riband' of jumps racing.

For 40-year-old Johnson, who won his previous Gold Cup as a callow 22-year-old, it came at a price as he received a seven-day suspension for over-use of the whip.

However, that will do little to sour the joy he felt nor for the equally popular Tizzard.

"It was unreal wasn't it? To win the Cheltenham Gold Cup means everything to everyone's life. Let's not pretend it's not," said Tizzard.

"Bloody hell, I can't believe it. It doesn't get any better does it?"

Native River gave Tizzard a double on the day and there was also a striking brace of wins for female jockeys.

Bridget Andrews followed up her sister Gina's success at the Festival last year with Mohaayed in the County Hurdle, and Henrietta Tucker guided Pacha du Polder to defend his title in the Foxhunters Chase in remarkable fashion.

"I have a bad shoulder and it dislocated when I was coming into the finish," said Tucker.

"I carried on riding and just popped it back in."

- Irish finish dominant week in style -

While the Irish didn't land the Gold Cup, a double for trainer Gordon Elliott saw them retain the Prestbury Cup -- a trophy for the country that wins the most races -- with his 17 victories equalling great rival Willie Mullins's Festival record of eight wins.

Elliott's captured the opening Triumph Hurdle with Farclas, giving Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary his sixth win of the week.

"He is a genius, he is unreal," opined star 18-year-old jockey Jack Kennedy of Elliott.

Farclas led home an Irish 1-2-3 with a duo from Mullins filling the minor places.

Mullins, though, lost a horse in the following County Hurdle as Sandsend broke down going to the last hurdle, unshipping Katie Walsh and having to be put down.

Andrews was oblivious to the drama behind her as she rode a brilliant driving finish on 33/1 shot Mohaayed, and earned a kiss on the cheek from her boyfriend Harry Skelton, who normally rides the winner but had opted to ride Lagostovegas, also trained by his brother Dan.

"First time I have punched the air for coming sixth," said Harry Skelton.

"I was yelling at her (Andrews) coming down the hill keep him steady. She (Andrews) has realised her dream and totally deserves it.

"The girls have shown this week they are as good as the men."

Elliott's midas touch carried on to the penultimate race as Blow By Blow -- part-owned by Hull City and Republic of Ireland international David Meyler -- won the Martin Pipe Hurdle.

"If I couldn't win the Gold Cup then this is the race I wanted to win," Elliott told the BBC.

"I've got eight winners now. I cannot believe it."

It all made for a thrilling day out for special guest 109-year-old Ralph Hoare.

The third-oldest man in Britain -- who through the years met the likes of TE Lawrence, better known as 'Lawrence of Arabia', and delivered cakes to author Evelyn Waugh -- had been present for the legendary Arkle's three successive Gold Cups over 50 years ago.

Whether Native River will equal that is open to question, but for the Tizzard family and Johnson that is a matter for when the champagne finally goes flat.