Fans of horse racing all over the world will have their eyes locked on a small town not far from the West Midlands in March.
The Cheltenham Festival, four days of elite-level National Hunt racing, will take place from March 16-19, and two former point-to-point horses could play a key role in the shake-up of the festival’s flagship race.
Admittedly, both Samcro and Native River will need to improve on their most recent form if they are to have any chance of winning the Gold Cup, but the pair have both won at Cheltenham before and that tends to be an excellent breeding ground for subsequent success.
Indeed, Native River is already a former Gold Cup winner, outstaying the field in the mud back in 2018, and after a season-ending injury in February 2020 he is looking to bounce back in style this year.
That success came from humble beginnings too, as the now eleven-year-old began his career on the point-to-point circuit – unseating his rider in one notable failure at Dromahane.
Native River won his maiden National Hunt race at Stratford and his finest hour at Cheltenham saw him outlast Might Bite to win the Gold Cup for Colin Tizzard and connections.
The Irish horse has been declared for the 2021 edition of the renewal, and while he is considered nothing more than an outsider in the ante-post Cheltenham Festival horse racing betting odds, the pedigree of Native River suggests he simply cannot be overlooked.
Samcro’s Happy Hunting Ground
It’s been a curious 2020/21 season for Samcro so far. Returning to his native Ireland in the Grade 2 Lough Construction Chase, the nine-year-old was well beaten by Battleoverdoyen having nothing to spare in the final furlong run-in.
And then worst was to come just after Christmas when Gordon Elliott’s charge was pulled up in the Savills Chase when well off the pace.
The trainer confirmed he would be giving Samcro a few days off immediately afterwards following his ‘disappointing’ run, and there will be plenty of attention for his Cheltenham warm-up run after the former Festival winner was declared for the Gold Cup.
Sired by the American horse Germany, Samcro also started life as a point-to-pointer and really caught the eye when winning at Monksgrange – Elliott himself forking out £335,000 to capture the then six-year-old from the Goffs UK Aintree Sale.
A number of wins in Ireland followed as a lead-in to the 2018 edition of the Cheltenham Festival, where Samcro so impressively won the Ballymore Novices Hurdle by two-and-a-half lengths.
A low-key 2019 gave way to the following year and, once again, Samcro revelled in the Cheltenham Festival air when landing the Marsh Novices’ Chase title from Melon by the shortest of noses.
Since then it’s been something of a drought for the hardy chaser, but even so his – and Native River’s – Cheltenham pedigree confirms they should not be discounted by those looking for a value flutter. Not bad for two former point-to-pointers!
Meanwhile, closer to home, the first Hunter Chase of the year marked a successful return to the track for Hazel Hill in his bid to win back the Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase. Under professional Lee Edwards, he joined the leader at the last and was pushed out for a comfortable win. Unremarkably considering the lack of other opportunities, there was a large field of 13 (16 declared but some withdrawals because of the ground). There may never be a better year for the leading UK pointer to win back his crown in March.