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Richard Johnson, Back In The Saddle Ahead Of Cheltenham

Racing
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08 March 2020

I’m really pleased with how quickly I've recovered from my broken arm and I’ve had no problems at all since returning to race riding. As far as the jockeys’ championship is concerned, I’ll be giving it my best shot but I’m a long way behind Brian Hughes and until it gets down to single figures it won’t feel like it’s within range. 

I’m obviously delighted to have returned from injury in time to ride at the Cheltenham Festival and on Day One my best ride is Brewin’upastorm for trainer Olly Murphy in the Racing Post Arkle. He felt in real good form when I schooled him last week. The conditions of the race will really suit him, he loves soft ground and he stays two and half miles which around Cheltenham is a positive. 

I’ll be riding Gumball in the Champion Hurdle for trainer Philip Hobbs and owner Terry Warner but Epatante looks to have a favourites chance in what is a very competitive and open race. She was very impressive at Kempton at Christmas. In the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Shishkin, has been visually very impressive in his prep runs and looks sure to go close.

On Wednesday, I think Defi Du Seuil has all the right credentials to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase. I know the horse well having ridden him to win the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow and the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham when Barry Geraghty was injured. He was exceptionally good at Ascot last time when he beat Un De Sceaux. We’ve all heard today that Altior is lame so that brings some doubt about his participation.

I’m likely to ride Adrimel in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper for trainer Tom Lacey.  The softer it is, the better his chance. 

On Thursday, I could be riding La Bague Au Roi in the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate. She’s been running in Grade One company and she’s coming back into a handicap. I think she’s got a strong chance being ridden prominently at that trip.

Of course, I’m gutted that Native River is injured and misses Friday’s Magners Gold Cup. Last year’s winner Al Boum Photo is the one I’d like to ride if I could pick one in the race. He’s been specifically trained for the race with the same preparation as last year. I think Santini will be thereabouts but I don’t think beating Bristol De Mai around Cheltenham last time gives him the chance the betting suggests. It wouldn’t be the biggest shock if Elegant Escape ran a big race. He ran poorly last time but if he came back to form, he could be staying on up the hill. There’s a few in the race that have to prove they truly stay.

In terms of my biggest chance of the week, it’s definitely Thyme Hill, who came third in the Champion Bumper last year and started his season with a victory in the Grace Two Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow last October. He won a Grade Two novices’ hurdle at Cheltenham in November and then took the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December.

He’s been strongly fancied for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle all winter but there’s still a chance he could run in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Wednesday. It depends on the ground. I schooled him last Thursday and he gave me a great feel.

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