Richard Johnson's Blog - The Return of Native River

Racing
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21 November 2018

Racegoers at Exeter got lucky last week when two of the stars of our sport, Native River and Thistlecrack did a circuit of the track after racing. A Gold Cup winner and a King George winner no less!

It was great to be back on board Native River, who felt really well. The idea was to give both horses a pipe opener and a nice day out before their first race of the season, the Betfair Chase at Haydock this Saturday. Thistlecrack has been off the track for a long time, and Native River had to work really hard on his last racecourse appearance when winning the Gold Cup, so part of the idea was for them to experience going to the races but not being under pressure. As it was, Tom Scudamore (on Thistlecrack) and I went round faster on this pair than we had earlier on during the race meeting anyway because they’re a class above.

It will be a tough ask first time out to be taking on the likes of Might Bite, but there are only 4 or 5 Grade 1 chases for this type of horse all season, so there are no easy options for horses at this level. Of course the bonus is a big draw too, if a horse can win this race, the King George and the Gold Cup, they'll pick up a £1 million bonus.  I’m really pleased with Native River and I'm looking forward to it. 

The following weekend it’s the Ladbrokes Chase at Newbury. This is Thomas Patrick’s aim. I rode the Tom Lacey trained youngster to finish a half-length second to Elegant Escape at Sandown last week. This was a really good run and the beauty of just being beaten is that he will be better off at the weights with Elegant Escape at Newbury. This might just make all the difference! He has the right profile for the race formerly known as the Hennessy. It’s a race I won on Native River on the way to the Coral Welsh Grand National and Thomas Patrick is hopefully a Welsh National horse of the future too. 

Rock The Kasbah’s owners the Whateleys always hoped he would be a Welsh National horse, but he proved again at Cheltenham at the weekend that he is a good ground horse and not a soft ground horse so Chepstow at Christmas time might not suit him. He always runs well at Chepstow at the start of the season and was running well before getting tired at Chepstow’s Jump Season Opener meeting behind The Young Master. The Young Master came out and won again at Cheltenham on Friday, and Rock The Kasbah was brilliant to win the Grade 3 BetVictor.com Handicap Chase on Saturday. He also holds an entry in the Ladbrokes Trophy, and longer term the Grand National is the aim. 

On Sunday at Cheltenham, I was delighted to win the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial Novices' Chase on Lalor for Kayley Woollacott and her team. Her late husband Richard Woollacott bought this horse and loved him and there has been a huge expectation of him, particularly since he won the Grade 1 novices’ hurdle at Aintree last year. He’s a big hunter type who always looked like he’d be best as a chaser, but it doesn’t always work out so it was great to see him take to it like a duck to water. There was huge pressure on the team so it was a relief to be able to deliver for them. 

In behind me was Defi du Seuil on whom I won some really good juvenile hurdles the season before last. His jumping wasn’t great on Sunday but he’s schooled a lot better than that at home. It’s too soon to write him off, he was one of the worst affected by the bug at Philip Hobbs’ last year, and maybe it will just take him a little while to get back into the swing of it. He’s still a good horse.

Unfortunately, I’ve been off with a ban this week. I was riding a horse at Hereford which was idling in front and my position in the saddle shifted as I was urging him. This meant that I used my whip in the wrong place for which I received a ban. I’ve never been banned for this before so I’ve just got to take my punishment and learn from the experience! I’ve got some good rides at Chepstow on Wednesday and I'm back riding again on Friday. And of course, I’m looking forward to Native River on Saturday at Haydock! 

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