Richard Johnson: War Sound has great chance at Cheltenham
The champion jockey previews his weekend rides at Cheltenham and Southwell, and gives his view on the whip debate.
There is plenty of rain forecast for Cheltenham on Saturday, but no-one knows if the heavy stuff will come before, during or after racing.
I’ve got four rides and, as is always the case here, the racing is very competitive.
Cheltenham on Saturday
We’re definitely hoping that the rain stays away for Ozzie The Oscar in the 2m½f handicap chase (1.20pm), as he’s one who likes a sound surface.
He ran really well two starts back in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter and it wasn’t a bad effort at Ascot last time when he just faded in the home straight. He’s off a high mark now which makes it hard in these handicaps.
It’s a small yet select field and, while we want it to stay dry, the more rain the better for Top Gamble. Bun Doran won well last time, so it’s going to be an interesting race.
I’m looking forward to getting back on board War Sound in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (1.55pm).
He won very well at Aintree last month and although he’s gone up 10lbs, he was always threatening to win last season but never quite managed it.
I suppose that just shows how much better form Philip Hobbs' horses are in this term and he comes here with a very good chance.
He’s a straightforward horse, he handles all types of ground and doesn’t have to lead. I hope we’ll see the best of him in a fast-run, competitive race like this.
With Frodon in there he’s still got a very nice racing weight, so we’re hopeful.
Baron Alco is the obvious threat as he was a good winner here last month and a few horses have done the double over the years.
I schooled Western Ryder on Friday morning at Warren Greatrex's. He went well so we thought it would be worth running him in the International Hurdle (3.05pm).
With Laurina not coming over this looks quite an open race. He has a bit to find at the weights, but he has a strong each-way chance.
We just thought the race would suit him. He enjoys it around Cheltenham and has some good form in small fields.
The other option was Ascot next weekend, but that will be very competitive.
The New One has won this race three times in the past and I was lucky enough to be on him for his third success two years ago.
He has been the most fantastic horse for connections and he’s definitely one I’ll be watching in the race. It would be nice to see him run well and I can’t see why he won’t run a decent race.
My final ride of the day is also for Warren with Petticoat Tails in the mares’ handicap hurdle (3.40pm).
She seems really well and ran a very good race after a wind op at Ascot last month. If she improves from that, she should have a great chance.
This is always a decent, competitive race, but I believe there are a few reasons why she might come on again.
Southwell on Sunday
Just the two rides for me at Southwell and it’s Apachee Prince first up for Olly [Murphy] in the staying handicap chase (12.10pm).
He’s only won two of his 41 career starts, so it’s not going to be easy. Midnight Bliss is in great form and looks the one we have to beat.
Stoney Mountain will hopefully go very close in the novices’ hurdle (1.45pm). He beat Aye Aye Charlie at Aintree in October and almost followed up at Ascot last month.
Although he has to carry a penalty, I’d be pretty hopeful he can win a race like this as he’s a decent horse.
Sports Personality of the Year
I’ll be stopping off at Sports Personality of the Year on the way back from Southwell.
I’ve been before a few times and it’s always nice to see some of the famous people off the TV!
Hopefully there will be a bit of publicity for jump racing.
The whip debate has resurfaced again following an article in The Times.
What I would say is that the welfare of horses and jockeys is the most important thing.
I think the whip rules are in a good place and they’re policed very well by the likes of the BHA and PJA, who work closely with the various animal welfare organisations.
The padded whips are very different to the ones from years ago. Of course they’re used to encourage horses to race, but they’re just as important as a safety measure for corrective purposes.
I don’t believe there’s any reason to change anything at the moment, but we all want to show racing in the best possible light so I’m sure the industry will continue to monitor it closely.
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