Native River and Might Bite set for Betfair Chase rematch at Haydock

Native River beats Might Bite after an epic Cheltenham duel

Native River and Might Bite engage in what promises to be a fascinating rematch in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

The Colin Tizzard-trained Native River saw off Nicky Henderson's Might Bite in a pulsating renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, with the abundant stamina of the former Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National hero proving crucial in the testing conditions at Prestbury Park.

Wind the clock forward eight months and with the unseasonably dry weather ensuring a predominantly sound surface will prevail on Merseyside this weekend, the classy Might Bite is a hot favourite to turn the tables and exact his revenge.

However, Joe Tizzard - assistant to his father - is hoping Native River can confirm his superiority.

He said: "It has always been the plan to go straight to Haydock. He has been back in since the middle of July and hasn't missed a day, touch wood.

"We could have run him again after the Gold Cup as he came out of it well, but he jarred himself the season before - which was well publicised - and we didn't want to take any risks as we think he is capable of going back there again.

"We turned him out, he has had a proper preparation for this season and we can't wait to run him."

While Might Bite would appear to have things more in his favour this weekend than he did for that titanic tussle in March, Tizzard believes it would be folly to pigeonhole Native River as just a mud lark.

He added: "He is a very good mover. He has been given this brand that he is a slogger, but he has got a bit of class as well.

"He is as tough as they come and mentally he is just what you need. We probably put him into that bracket (as a slogger) in his novice days and we thought Dicky (Richard Johnson) would suit him down to the ground as he would keep sending him on.

"But even when he won on him first time out, he said he is better than that. I think he showed that when he won at Newbury last season."

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The Tizzards have a strong second string to their bow in the form of Thistlecrack.

The 10-year-old looked well placed to dominate the division after winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton two years ago, but well-publicised injury problems have restricted him to just three subsequent starts.

He has not been seen in competitive action since finishing fourth behind Might Bite when defending his King George crown last Christmas, but connections hope he can prove he is no back number on Saturday.

Tizzard said: "He was going to run in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, but as the ground went against us we couldn't do that.

"We were always fighting a battle with him last season physically. We thought he ran a good race in the King George, but he was sore coming out of it and he had a stress fracture in his hind leg.

"The question with him is are we going to get him back to his old self? At home we think we've got him back virtually there - it's whether or not he can do it on the course. Fingers crossed he will."

After being carried out on his shield at Cheltenham, Might Bite rounded off the last campaign with a dominant display at Aintree and Henderson reports his charge to be firing on all cylinders ahead of his return.

He said: "He's never been better - he's in terrific form - and I don't see why Haydock won't suit him.

"You could say three and a quarter miles around Cheltenham isn't as ideal as an easy three miles, which I think is his perfect scene.

"I thought his Aintree win was his best run last season because he was coming back from a very hard battle at Cheltenham.

"Saturday is obviously a completely different race on different ground, but taking on Native River is what's good for racing and it will be a proper race - that's for sure."

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai was a 57-length winner of last year's Betfair Chase - albeit in far more demanding ground than he will encounter on his return.

Jockey Daryl Jacob said: "I'm looking forward to it. He was a very good winner of the last race, when obviously the ground was a lot different to what it will be on Saturday.

"It looks a very good renewal, but my horse is in good form. He was meant to run in the Charlie Hall, but the ground was too quick, so we're coming straight here and we'll see what happens.

"He did run well on good ground behind Might Bite at Aintree in the spring. If he can reproduce that sort of performance, he should be there or thereabouts."

The line-up is completed by Clan Des Obeaux, who bids to provide Paul Nicholls with a seventh Betfair Chase success.

The Ditcheat maestro saddled Kauto Star to win the race four times and also struck twice with Silviniaco Conti.

He said: "Clan Des Obeaux is in good form and we can't wait to run him at Haydock on Saturday. He is an improving young horse, though he does have it all to do in this race.

"He is at the same stage of his career as Kauto Star was when he won his first Betfair Chase.

"He is an improving six-year-old with time on his side. We are looking forward to running him."

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Big Assignment for Williams' hope

Ian Williams is hoping First Assignment is up to his latest task and can complete a hat-trick in the £100,000 Betfair Exchange Stayers' Handicap Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.

The five-year-old has been in a rich vein of form this autumn, winning two competitive handicaps at Cheltenham.

His latest success came just a week ago, for which he has to defy a 5lb penalty. However, he is due to go up a further 8lb for future races, which is why Williams has decided to go against his usual instincts and run First Assignment quickly.

"First Assignment performed well at Cheltenham last time, winning comfortably. He has been put up 13lb by the handicapper, so he's in this race officially 8lb 'well in'," said the Alvechurch handler.

"I never like running horses back over these sort of trips quickly, but he appears to have come out of his race well and from a handicap perspective would appear to be in the race off a nice mark.

"He's got it all to do, but is due to go up another 8lb."

Emma Lavelle has had this race in mind for Paisley Park for some time - but admits having to give First Assignment weight will be tough.

"He's in great order. He has obviously got a bit of weight to carry, but he's a decent-sized horse," she said.

"He won on good, good to soft at Aintree. I'm just hoping the ground is going to be safe up at Haydock.

"He's a nice horse. This has been the target race since Aintree and hopefully it will work out. He's been fine since then and is very straightforward.

"This was always the plan. I wanted to get a run into him before we went to Haydock and it's worked well. It's going to be tough giving that weight to Ian Williams' horse, but I think our horse is nice."

Tom Symonds believes Bobo Mac has sound claims in the eight-runner affair, after an encouraging first run following wind surgery.

The seven-year-old ran the in-form Jersey Bean to four lengths at Newbury, with good performers such as Moon Racer and Splash Of Ginge behind him, on what was his first start since being successful at Warwick on April.

"I was very pleased with his prep run at Newbury. It was kind of boosted on Thursday by the winner (runner-up under top-weight at Market Rasen)," said the Ross-on-Wye handler.

"He's fine, but we'd like some rain.

"He goes there with every chance. It's sad it's cut up so much, but we'll see."

Irish interests are represented by the Gordon Elliott-trained Folsom Blue, who was unlucky when fourth in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse and has been absent since being unplaced over hurdles at the Punchestown Festival in April.

At The Races presenter Gary O'Brien is part of the owning Core Partnership and said: "This race has been the plan for a long time, but like most people we were really expecting the sort of ground you normally get at Haydock at this time of year to help make it more of a test of stamina.

"On the other side of the coin it's cut up a bit from the five-day stage, so we'd be hoping he can pick up some prize-money at least.

"The trainer has been happy with him and he travelled over fine."

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