Ulster-bred Native River strikes gold for Tizzard
Ulster-bred Native River proved an indomitable force in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old was bred in Dromara by Fred and Maureen Mackey from the mare Native Mo.
The local family watched the race on television with sons Richard and Robert and friends, while youngest son Wilson had travelled to Cheltenham and gained admission to the winners' enclosure to give the home bred a pat.
Maureen Mackey said: "The noise in the house was deafening in the closing stages. I had to remind Fred of the night the foal was born when he quipped: 'It's a chestnut with two white legs - what would you do with that!'."
Fred added: "He was third last year to Sizing John in the Gold Cup and we thought that was brilliant, him having won a Welsh Grand National, but today is something else."
The eight-year-old local horse has now won 11 races and almost a million in prize money for trainer Tizzard.
Champion jockey Richard Johnson appeared determined to make it a test from flag-fall, asking Native River for some extravagant leaps while setting a searching gallop.
The King George VI Chase hero and 4/1 favourite Might Bite was the only one able to lay a glove on Native River and looked set to claim the crown after looming alongside early in the home straight. Native River, though, refused to bend and following a titanic tussle up the famous hill, powered four and a half lengths clear.
Tizzard said: "It's unreal. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is everything in everyone's life and there's no pretending it's not.
"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.
He said: "Eighteen years seems a long time! 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.
Native River's victory completed a double for Tizzard, with Kilbricken Storm having earlier caused a 33/1 upset in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle in the hands of Harry Cobden.
The Apple's Shakira bubble was burst as Farclas shed his maiden tag in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Three-time course winner Apple's Shakira was all the rage as the 6/5 favourite, but could only finish a lacklustre fourth as 9/1 shot Farclas provided Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud with yet another winner at this year's Festival under Jack Kennedy.
Elliott went on to secure an eighth winner of the Festival, ensuring he was the leading trainer for the second successive year, after Blow By Blow (11/1) took the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle under Donagh Meyler.
Harriet Tucker performed an amazing feat in the saddle as she overcame a dislocated shoulder to guide the Paul Nicholls-trained Pacha Du Polder (25/1) to a repeat success in the St James' Place Foxhunter Chase.
Bridget Andrews rode her first Festival winner aboard Dan Skelton's Mohaayed (33/1) in the Randox Health County Hurdle, while Nicholls finished with a double courtesy of Barry Geraghty-ridden Le Prezien (15/2) in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap.