Native River made a fairly ordinary start to his novice hurdling campaign in late 2014, finishing third on his Rules debut at Newton Abbot before landing the spoils at Stratford and then again at Newcastle on Fighting Fifth Hurdle day - on both occasions ridden by Brendan Powell.
He would find Graded races at Newbury and Cheltenham too hot at this stage of his career, but did manage to land a Listed novice hurdle at Exeter, seeing off Paul Nicholls’ Emerging Talent who went off the 4/5 favourite.
Colin Tizzard wasted no time sending the scopey five-year-old over fences and he made his chase debut at Chepstow in October 2015, in what turned out to be an extremely hot race for the time of year.
It was won by Cocktails At Dawn for Nicky Henderson, who was rated as high as 150, while Grand Sefton winner As De Mee was second, with Native River third and Blaklion - later the winner of the 2016 RSA Chase at Cheltenham - back in fourth for the Nigel Twiston-Davies team.
Native River would win a minor novice chase at Exeter on his following start, before backing that up with a gritty Grade 2 success at Newbury, seeing off the attentions of dual Cheltenham Festival winner Un Temps Pour Tout.
Tizzard then stepped Native River up in class on Boxing Day of 2015, when he would come third in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase behind Tea For Two, looking outpaced throughout the race.
It was clear the Tizzard team thought they had a dour stayer on their hands, and as a result, aimed Native River towards the four-mile National Hunt Chase for amateur riders at the Cheltenham Festival. Despite making a terrible jumping error at the 13th fence, he stayed on to finish an excellent second behind Minella Rocco, who would later go on to finish one place ahead of Native River in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Native River would eventually get a deserved victory at Grade 1 level the following month, claiming the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, beating old rivals Blaklion and Un Temps Pour Tout in the process under Richard Johnson. It would be the start of a great relationship between the horse and champion jockey.
Colin Tizzard began the 2016/17 campaign by aiming Native River towards the big staying handicaps and he landed a huge gamble in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. He went off the 7/2 favourite and looked the winner for the entirety of the race under Johnson, until he idled badly in the closed stages but clung on to win by half a length from Carole’s Destrier.
Having already been entered in the Welsh Grand National, Native River was unpenalised for his victory at Newbury, going off a warm 11/4 favourite to take first prize at Chepstow as a result. He did just that, jumping with accuracy and clearing away from his rivals off top weight to win by a comfortable two lengths. A Grade 2 success back at Newbury followed in the Denman Chase before he was sent to the Cheltenham Gold Cup for the first time.
On ground that was on the quick side for the Festival, Native River disputed the lead throughout before being outpaced in the final four furlongs, eventually finishing a staying-on third behind Jessica Harrington’s Sizing John and Minella Rocco from the Jonjo O’Neill team.
Injury stopped Native River from competing in the Betfair Chase or the King George VI Chase in 2017, and instead he made his seasonal reappearance in February 2018 in the Denman Chase, comfortably beating Cloudy Dream and Saphir Du Rheu. It would be the perfect prep run for a second tilt at Prestbury Park glory.