It was a real humdinger of a weekend for National Hunt enthusiasts, culminating in the result most people wanted when Native River justified strong support in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.

If guts count for anything then he would have be in the shake-up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup as he was harassed by Double Ross throughout until taking his measure two out, before repelling the late challenge of Carole’s Destrier on the run to the line.

Colin Tizzard will give him a short break now but it has to be remembered that he is still only six and, as he showed when winning the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Liverpool last April, he could keep his very best form for the autumn/spring ground. Unfortunately, Tizzard has an embarrassment of riches with Cue Card, Thistlecrack and new recruit Alary waiting on the sidelines and he probably isn’t worth indulging in as a Gold Cup wager just right now.

The Hennessy has thrown up subsequent Gold Cup winners in Bobs Worth and Denman in recent years and what we do know for sure it that if he does line up for the starter on March 17 then he won’t be one that will be stopping in the closing stages.

Stablemate THISTLECRACK already holds sway at the top of the Gold Cup market and, impressive as he was over fences at Chepstow and Cheltenham previously, really looked the real deal with an exemplary performance in the Grade 2 Bet365 Novices’ Chase.

It was a display you would very much expect from a 1-8 shot but his fencing was without blemish and, perhaps unbelievably, he looks like he could be an even better chaser than he was a hurdler, and that makes him pretty much unbeatable. He showed when dismantling the opposition in the Grade 1 World Hurdle last season that he handles Cheltenham really well and, after Saturday’s effort, he now looks worthy of a 4pt wager at 7-2 for the Gold Cup, given his price would contract significantly were he to win the King George, which remains a possibility with connections refusing to rule that race out.

The Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on the same day saw Irving scrape home by a nose from Apple’s Jade, with Sceau Royal having his bubble burst when finishing only fourth of the five finishers. The winner is proven to be below the level required to win a Champion Hurdle so this probably isn't a race that will have a major bearing on the big two-mile hurdle races later in the year.

At Newbury on Friday, the classy-looking Jenkins made his debut in the novices hurdle that Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third Buveur D’Air had won 12 months previously.

Jenkins pulled right away in the closing stages to score by five lengths from Bags Groove and Nicky Henderson’s novice ended the weekend at 10-1 best for the Supreme but he wasn’t the most proficient at some of his hurdles and, at this stage, I couldn’t seeing him being a bother to Moon Racer.

Unowhatimeanharry returned in splendour for Harry Fry in the Grade 2 Bet365 Long Distance Hurdle the same day when easily dispatching Ballyoptic by six lengths and underlining his credentials for the World Hurdle, but owner JP McManus also has Yanworth as a possible contender for that event and the advice is to stay put until he is tested over three miles at Ascot next month.

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Thistlecrack
Cheltenham Gold Cup
4pt
7/2
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