Richard Johnson: I can't wait to get back on Native River
The champion jockey weighs up the challenge of Might Bite at Haydock in a race he says he's been looking forward to since winning the Gold Cup in March.
Last weekend’s Cheltenham’s November meeting really kick-started the National Hunt season, and a number of great horses are back out for the first time this weekend.
I have a number of exciting rides, including the return of Native River, so hopefully it will be a successful weekend.
Haydock on Saturday
I’ve been looking forward to getting back on Native River since winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, so I couldn’t be more excited to ride him again at Haydock (15:00).
The ground has obviously dried out, but as long as it’s not really fast he should be fine. To be honest, it’s nice that it won't be a slog for his first run back.
He’s obviously a special horse for me, and I wouldn’t swap him for the world, but you’d have to say Might Bite looks the biggest danger.
The ground probably suits him a bit more, but I don’t think it’s a simple two-horse race. Thistlecrack may be getting on now but he boasts some great form.
I wouldn’t discount any of these.
March is obviously the main aim for Colin Tizzard and connections, but if Native River were to win on Saturday then we’d obviously look at Kempton with the £1m bonus.
Until then we just hope he puts in a strong performance and shows us what he is capable of again.
I kick off the Haydock card on Bishops Road (12:40) for Kerry Lee.
He has lost his way a bit of late, but his third-place finish at Aintree last time out gives us a glimmer of hope.
I’ve actually won on him before at Haydock and it would be nice to see him get back to his best despite carrying top weight.
Black Mischief (13:50) was running really well when he fell at Market Rasen in October.
He was putting in a strong effort to challenge the front two when he went down, and unfortunately that didn’t go unnoticed by the handicapper.
Hopefully he has fully regained his confidence, because you would have to fancy him to go well.
I thought there would be a bigger field for the Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle (14:25) considering the prize money on offer.
It’s a very nice pot to challenge for and I ride Folsom Blue for Gordon Elliott who clearly agrees.
He certainly doesn’t bring horses over for the sake of it, and it’s his only runner of the day at Haydock.
First Assignment is going to be very hard to beat if he repeats his effort from Cheltenham last weekend.
Unfortunately I can’t be in two places at once, otherwise I would have loved to ride Ozzie The Oscar in the valuable handicap (15:15) at Ascot.
He put in a really good performance in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last time out and has returned in great health.
He’s a consistent type and really deserves to get his head in front in one of these competitive handicaps.
The ground will be no problem and it would be great to see him win from the Haydock weighing room.
Exeter on Sunday
Vango De Vaige (13:20) finished third at Exeter earlier this month and I’m looking forward to riding him again for Philip Hobbs.
That was a big step up in form and, with the yard going well, I hope he can build on that again.
Another horse with decent course and distance form is Monbeg Gold (13:50) who I won on at Exeter a few years ago.
He’s had a fairly light couple of years, but is back down to a nice mark and if he’s able to put it all together he could go close.
Tobefair faces a tough ask going up against Lil Rockerfeller in the novices’ chase (14:20), but he’s not without a chance.
He was a 140-rated hurdler and gets 10lbs from Lil Rockerfeller. It might not be enough to win but he should certainly be fighting for the money.
My final ride of the weekend is New Millenium (14:50) for Philip. He took a long time to win but finally got in front at Fontwell last time out and I would be hopeful of another big performance.
Visit Betway's horse racing betting page.