Native River digs deep to see off Might Bite in Gold Cup thriller
Native River saw off Might Bite to make all the running in what was an epic duel for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Third 12 months ago, the Colin Tizzard-trained Native River (5-1) went two places better to win in the hands of champion jockey Richard Johnson, who was landing the blue riband for the second time after Looks Like Trouble in 2000.
Native River and Might Bite, the 4-1 favourite, were the first two throughout and it was the former who proved stronger from the last fence to prevail by four and a half lengths. The pair were a further four lengths clear of 33-1 chance Anibale Fly in third.
Johnson said: "I'm speechless. He's been a fantastic horse for me and I was lucky to pick up the ride on him.
"He's just amazing. He jumps for fun. I was getting squeezed, but at the second-last and the last he just wanted it so much.
"I knew Nico (de Boinville, on Might Bite) was there and to be fair to Might Bite, he's run a hell of race, but I think we just outstayed him. They are two very brave horses."
He added: "Eighteen years (since Looks Like Trouble) seems a long time!"
Tizzard said: "It's unreal. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is everything in everyone's life and there's no pretending it's not. Richard Johnson was galloping as fast as he could and jumping as fast as he could all the time and the horse never let him down once.
"Might Bite came to him and I thought that was it, but he just powered away again.
"We've had a wonderful preparation with him, so you think something's going to go wrong in the race, but it didn't. His form has gone on from last year.
"I can't believe it. It doesn't get better, does it?"
Johnson had made his intentions clear from the start of the extended three-and-a-quarter-mile test by setting off in front, but he was shadowed all the way by De Boinville and Might Bite.
They dominated proceedings all the way through and no other horse was able to get to them.
Might Bite, bidding to give Nicky Henderson an unprecedented treble after the victories of Buveur D'Air in the Champion Hurdle and Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, appeared to be going the better of the two as they turned for home.
However, the King George VI Chase winner was just found wanting from the last, as the stamina of last season's Hennessy and Welsh National scorer kicked in.