Richard Johnson: All I want for Christmas is the King George
The champion jockey discusses his chances of winning a maiden King George on Native River and previews the rest of his rides at Kempton.
It’s nice to have a few days off over Christmas, although there’s going to be plenty going on with the kids
We’re doing lots with the horses and ponies at home which will be really fun before a family Christmas dinner and then the big day at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Hoping for the perfect Christmas present
The Tizzards seem really pleased with Native River and we’re all looking forward to the King George on Wednesday (15:05).
I was pleased to see the streets wet in London on Sunday morning when I woke up after the Lesters and I certainly won’t be complaining if they get some more rain over the next few days.
It looks a wide open, strong renewal. You can make a solid case for five or six of them.
Bristol De Mai has to be taken very seriously. I know all his best form has come at Haydock, but none of us could beat him there and he must have a great chance.
Might Bite has to get himself back in the right frame of mind, but he’s a talented horse and you can’t rule him out after Haydock. Thistlecrack ran very well and could easily improve, while no-one really knows how good Waiting Patiently is as he’s still unbeaten over fences.
In any case, we’re very hopeful that Native River will run a massive race. I know he disappointed a little in a novice chase at Kempton in 2015, but that was a long time ago and I wouldn’t be crabbing him for that.
I haven’t managed to win a King George yet, I’ve had a couple of seconds, and it’s obviously a race I’d love to win. It’s the only Christmas present I’m looking for!
The rest of Kempton on Boxing Day
I have five rides at Kempton and first up is Thomas Darby in the novices’ hurdle (12:50).
He was set to run at Ascot on Friday, but the ground was very tacky and we just felt it was best to avoid that. He’s a young horse who hasn’t finished growing yet and conditions at Kempton should be better for him.
We’ve loved his two runs so far and he goes there with every chance. We definitely haven’t seen the best of him yet.
It’s always competitive at Kempton but I’d like to think Awake At Midnight has claims in the novices’ handicap chase (13:20).
He won at Chepstow two starts back and then ran a decent race at Exeter last time. This is very competitive but he shouldn’t be too far away.
I’ve been really impressed with La Bague Au Roi this season and I’m excited to get back on her in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (13:55).
As you’d expect with a Grade One, it’s a very hot renewal, but it’s hard to find races to run these horses in and on official ratings with her mares’ allowance she should go very close.
She’s one who would prefer the rain to stay away. Three miles on good-to-soft will be fine, but very soft ground might be a problem. Flat tracks seem to bring out the best in her.
My final ride of the day is Who’s My Jockey in the closing handicap hurdle (15:40).
To be totally honest, he’s been disappointing this season and just hasn’t found his stride yet.
The ground should be more in his favour on Boxing Day. It was testing at Newbury so we’re hoping that will help him run a better race.
Western Ryder should win a big handicap this season
We were really happy with Western Ryder at Ascot on Saturday. He only ran a week before and this is one of the biggest handicaps of the season.
Of course it’s frustrating when you’re bang there and don’t quite win one, but he should pick up a big handicap later in the season.
Newbury in February is an option, although the step up to 2 ½m on better ground in the spring will definitely suit. He’s really grown up, to run two such big races in seven days shows how he’s matured. He’s running to a very high level.
I was a lot happier with Thomas Patrick than I was at Newbury which was pleasing. I just wonder if Newbury knocked his confidence a bit because he didn’t jump like we know he can.
It’s a shame he hasn’t done quite what we expected but he’s only six and has got plenty of time on his side.
The Mighty Don ran a cracker in the JLT Hurdle . He’s already qualified for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham and if the handicapper leaves him alone I’d have thought it would be hard not to run him in that. He’s grown up and improved a lot over the past 12 months.
It was great for both Aidan Coleman and Emma Lavelle to get their first Grade One win with Paisley Park. In a way we were all shocked they hadn’t won one before and I’m sure it was the best possible Christmas present for both of them.
Great fun at the Lesters
It was a fun night on Saturday at the Lesters. It worked out nicely being back in London after Ascot and with no racing the next day it gave everyone the chance to enjoy themselves. It’s the only real night of the year when the flat and jumps guys get together.
George Baker won a special recognition award, which was much deserved, and it was great to see him get a standing ovation. It just goes to show what a close-knit community horse racing is
I was really pleased to win jump jockey of the year for the third time, although I’m still a long way behind AP McCoy.
It’s voted for by your peers, so for me it’s the best award that you can win during the year. I’m more than happy to make some room on the mantelpiece for it.
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