2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup: Native River not my only hope, says champion trainer Tizzard
Although the 2018 winner Native River leads his stable's three-horse challenge on the Magners Gold Cup, centrepiece of next month's Cheltenham Festival, trainer Colin Tizzard insists none of the trio should be discounted.
Native River, who got the better of a thrilling duel with Might Bite to win last year's trophy ridden by champion jump jockey Richard Johnson, attempts to become the first back-to-back winner since Best Mate - who completed a hat-trick with victories in the 2002, 2003 and 2004 stagings.
This season's runner-up in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and third-place finisher in the King George VI Chase at Kempton is joined in the line-up for the race on 15 March by stablemates Thistlecrack - third at Haydock and second at Kempton - and Welsh Grand National winner Elegant Escape.
The betting has Native River as third favourite behind Ireland's Presenting Percy and Clan Des Obeaux - the winner of the King George - while Thistlecrack is rated eighth in the list and Elegant Escape further down still.
"My opinion is Native River's done it, and of course he's probably got the better chance," said Tizzard, "but the other ones, on their day, with everything going right, would have a massive chance.
"Elegant Escape is a massive stayer - you can't get away from that - and stamina does kick in; Thistlecrack is a World [Stayers] Hurdle winner and a brilliant horse.
"We'll let them all run and see which one's the best. Let them all play their game."
Tizzard, who declares himself "proud as proud" to have saddled a winner of the Gold Cup - "the ultimate national hunt race" - used to be considered a south west of England dairy farmer who trained racehorses as a sideline.
These days, the large herd has been disbanded and replaced by just 49 beef cattle - "you don't have to milk them 720 times a year," he says - and the farm transformed into one of the most successful horse racing operations in Britain.
Since the great Cue Card became his first Festival winner when taking the Bumper in 2010, six more have followed, and a powerful squad is once again being aimed at the four-day Cotswold fixture.
Apart from his Gold Cup candidates, Mister Malarky (probably RSA Chase), Lostintranslation (JLT Chase) and West Approach (Stayers Hurdle) all got noticeably favourable mentions during a visit to Tizzard HQ on the Dorset/Somerset border, close to the village of Milborne Port.
The trainer, who is assisted by wife Pauline, ex-jockey son Joe and daughter Kim, agrees that the final weeks of preparations are full of anxieties and the most testing of the year.
"The thing is that you've got to hold your nerve," he said, a phrase he repeats constantly. "What I don't want to do is to go and do something, a racecourse gallop maybe or extra schooling [jumping practice], to try to grab another five lengths and end up losing them.
"We've just got to hold our nerve, keep going, and hopefully get there in one piece."