CHELTENHAM, England (AP) — Native River delivered an exhibition in front-running to outlast favorite Might Bite in a thrilling duel to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Britain’s most prestigious jumps race, on Friday.
Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, 5-1 shot Native River took the lead right from the start and was never passed in the race over 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs in front of a crowd of 70,000.
After they jumped the last fence, Native River and Might Bite were neck and neck, but Johnson got a kick out of the Colin Tizzard-trained horse on the uphill finish and Native River won by 4 1/2 lengths — a year after finishing third in the race.
For Johnson, it was a second victory in the Gold Cup — 18 years after his first on Looks Like Trouble.
“It’s been a long 18 years,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I was a passenger.
“The more I asked from him, the better he jumped.”
Might Bite’s handler, Nicky Henderson, was looking to become the first trainer to capture the Cheltenham Festival’s three signature races in the same year — the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup.
It was Might Bite’s first defeat over fences, and Henderson said the heavy going didn’t do the horse any favors — especially against a rival who is a past winner of the Welsh National and the Hennessy Gold Cup
“It was the right thing to track Native River because no other horse got into the race, he had to be in the right place,” Henderson said of the 4-1 favorite.
“On better ground, stamina wouldn’t have been an issue. But in that ground you have to work so much harder. The winner is a Welsh National winner and the reason I’ve never won that race is because I can’t find horses that go in that ground.”
Native River won his owners 369,822 pounds ($515,000).
Anibale Fly, a 33-1 shot, was third.