Richard Johnson: My best book of Festival rides for some time
The champion jockey previews every race from the first day of the Festival, including the Arkle Chase, in which he rides Lalor for Kayley Woollacott.
I took a nasty fall in the first at Taunton yesterday, where I got a cut.
I had to have a couple of stitches and I’ve got a bit of a bruise on my knee, so thought it was best to take the rest of the day off.
I’ll be fine for Tuesday. These are the biggest four days of the year for us jockeys and I can’t wait for it to start.
I’ve had a really good season so far but if you can have a winner at Cheltenham it makes it a great season.
I’m pleased that we’ve had a good bit of rain at Cheltenham, especially for Native River on Friday. As I’ve said before, our Gold Cup win last year was one of the best days of my life and it would be amazing if we could do it again.
There’s plenty to look forward to before that, though, and I honestly think I’ve got as strong a book of rides at the Festival as I’ve had for quite some time.
I won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Menorah in 2010 for the Whateleys and it would be lovely to do it in the same colours again on Thomas Darby .
Considering he beat Elixir De Nutz well over course and distance in October, I don’t see why he’s such a big price.
That form is very solid and he wasn’t suited by the slow pace when beaten by Mister Fisher at Kempton on Boxing Day.
I’m sure we’ll go a good strong gallop and you’ll need to stay well. I think the race will bring out the best in him and he’s got a good chance of being in the mix.
It looks very open, there’s no hotpot, you can make cases for any number of them.
Lalor is one of my best chances of the week in the Arkle. Everyone knows how much it would mean if he was to win it and I really hope he does.
Kayley Woollacott has done very well with him. I’ve sat on him a couple of times over the past couple of weeks and he seems really well.
His form from Aintree last April and Cheltenham in November is top class and if he reproduces that, he’s the one they all have to beat.
I keep hearing how the ground is a massive negative for him, but it’s not going to be what it was like at Sandown in December. It was really sticky that day and he just didn’t enjoy it.
It was also only three weeks after his run at Cheltenham and he’s definitely better after a break and in the spring. Don’t forget it was soft when he won at Aintree.
The ground is going to be fresh on Tuesday and I don’t think it will be an excuse.
I don’t have a ride in the Ultima and it looks typically wide open.
Paul Nicholls seems to fancy his Give Me A Copper and with the way his horses have been running, you’d have to respect that.
It will be interesting to see how the ground rides after the first few races. If it becomes very testing after the ground has opened up a bit, you’d be looking for horses with proven soft or heavy ground form over three miles plus.
The Champion Hurdle looks to be between Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air to me. Laurina is a very good mare, but it requires a massive leap of faith to go with her on the form she’s shown so far.
I’d love to see Apple’s Jade win it, as she’s done everything right this season. The only worry is that she doesn’t seem to run quite as well at Cheltenham, even though she’s won there before.
Buveur D’Air has been there and done it and perhaps a third Champion Hurdle will make people sit up and take notice a bit more. The soft ground is also a bonus for him.
It should be very close and I’d be leaning only very slightly towards him.
Benie Des Dieux is obviously a very good mare but she’s as short as she is only because she’s trained by Willie Mullins and the yard have a bit of a domination in this race.
Willie is a brilliant trainer and it would be another great performance to bring her here first time up and win, but they’ve done it before with Quevega.
She should be favourite but she’s very short and I think Alan King’s Mia’s Storm is an interesting each-way contender. She’s only a few pounds below on ratings and is very consistent.
My third and final ride of the day is Springtown Lake in the Close Brothers and he’s another who I think is overpriced.
I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet and he loves going left-handed and soft ground. He likes to bowl along from the front, that’s his style.
We were disappointed with him at Cheltenham last year, but Philip Hobbs' horses weren’t at their best then and they’re now in much better form.
He has taken well to fences and I think he’s got a better chance than his price suggests.
The National Hunt Chase is for amateur jockeys, so I’ll be watching from the weighing room.
He’s not favourite anymore but I do think Ok Corral travels too well in his races and might struggle to get home.
Philip’s Jerrysback could go well at a decent price.
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