Great Britain

Matt Chapman has his say on Native River’s shock scratching from the Gold Cup and a big card at Kempton on Saturday

I DON’T know who was more gutted to hear the news of Native River’s injury — me or Richard Johnson.

After all, I have been banging on about the horse’s Cheltenham Gold Cup chance for weeks . . . while Dickie has been busting a gut to get back in time from a broken arm to ride him.

And while Dickie, who says he will be back in the saddle this time next week, has clearly won his fitness battle, Native River’s tendon injury means we won’t be seeing him until next season.

It just goes to show the only certainty in racing is uncertainty.

So, people, I can only say sorry for putting Native River up in this column at 25-1 for the Gold Cup. Take it from me, I am just as disappointed as you are!

I nearly choked on my cornflakes when I read the breaking news on the Sun Racing app on Wednesday revealing the news of Native River’s tendon injury from the Tizzard's.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “It’s really disappointing but he’s just had a little tear in the suspensory tendon at the back of his knee which is going to put him out for the rest of the season.”

Of course, horse welfare is everything — even more so in the light of the 130-page report into it which was released on Thursday — but ‘really disappointing’ doesn’t even come close to cutting it, Joe!

After all, when Native River was scratched he was a 10-1 shot, and it’s a true frustration when you grab the value only to then see it whipped out of your hand like an umbrella on a stormy day.

However, from a race point of view, the Cheltenham feature has had its shape and tempo ripped up.

Native River provided key ingredients for what would have been a very tasty Gold Cup. Now it’s a pancake with no eggs and flour.

You see Native River would have turned the Gold Cup into a true test of stamina.

He would have gone hard from the front under Dickie, and whoever beat him would have needed to stay strong and true.

That element of stamina-testing has been removed from the puzzle. The Gold Cup is now not the race it was going to be.

So who to back now? Yes, despite the perils of ante-post punting, we just have to go in again.

The horse I think is still over-priced is Clan Des Obeaux, who readers of the Favourite smashed into in the King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas.

Clan Des Obeaux didn’t quite get home in the Gold Cup last year, when he faded into fifth behind Al Boum Photo, having been a close third with just two fences to jump.

That, though, was with Native River in the race. Now the emphasis on stamina will not be as strong.

And added to all that, Clan Des Obeaux has strengthened up from age seven to eight judged by his 21-length romp on Boxing Day.

A horse who jumps for fun, Clan Des Obeaux has been kept fresh for the Gold Cup by Paul Nicholls and is still available at 9-1.

That looks a fair price to have a few quid on each-way. One runner I wouldn’t put the mother-in-law’s money on is Santini.

How he can be the current Gold Cup favourite I’ll never know. Yes, he is trained by the brilliant Nicky

Henderson but he was all out to beat Bristol De Mai in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase last time.

And, while he is lightly raced and might improve with another run after a wind operation, his jumping is not the best for me.

Knowing my luck right now, he will go and win the thing . . . but he’s not for me!

Al Boum Photo won well enough last year so the defending champ cannot be ignored for Willie Mullins but my gut feeling is he fell into victory in 2019 and, again, Native River’s KO will change the test for him.

Delta Work has each-way claims as he stays strong and I felt he was unlucky in the 2019 RSA.

If it came to a scrap up the run-in you would be happy to have him on your side. He’s the opposite in some ways to Clan Des Obeaux.

More a streetfighter type, with Clan Des Obeaux the ballerina.

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I will be at Kempton today for ITV, and there is no doubt the most interesting comeback on the card will be that of Elgin, who returns in the Grade 2 Betway Kingwell Hurdle at 2.25pm.

Elgin was fifth in the 2018 Champion Hurdle, and went on to win a couple of times on the Flat before injury struck. He has been off the track since finishing last of seven at Newmarket in July 2018.

Trained by Alan King, Elgin could yet burst on to a wide-open Champion Hurdle scene.

Yes, he might need the run, but there have been positive reports for some time and often it’s better to have a horse returning from injury pretty straight rather than leaving lots to work on. Could be a big ride for the topcat Tom Cannon.


The Sun Racing panel discuss the weekend's horse racing action at Kempton, Lingfield and Newcastle