Richard Johnson: Aintree likely to be next for La Bague Au Roi
The champion jockey reflects on a mixed few days at Leopardstown and Sandown, and reveals what the future holds for his biggest weekend winner.
La Bague Au Roi is some mare
It was a great day at Leopardstown on Sunday with La Bague Au Roi winning her second Grade 1.
The ground was very quick. I walked it beforehand and I was surprised how fast it was, especially going away from the stands, but at least you’re not racing too hard at that point.
Although she’s a big mare, she’s quite light-framed and has won on good ground before.
It would have been nice if there had been a bit more cut in the ground, but I suppose with Delta Work not running it helped my chances a bit.
She’s very uncomplicated and jumped well the whole way round. Because we’d won over three miles at Kempton I didn’t want it to be a slowly run race.
I just tried to get her into a nice rhythm and build it up from three out. Coming round the home bend I asked her to go and win her race. She jumped the last well and did it nicely.
She’s a top class mare. The form from all four of her wins this season stacks up really well, whichever way you look at it.
We’ve always felt that the undulating track at Cheltenham doesn’t really suit her. Most of her wins have come at places like Newbury, Wetherby and Kempton.
The sensible plan would be to avoid Cheltenham and go to Aintree where we’d have the option of either two-and-a-half or three miles depending on the ground.
After the race, Warren Greatrex, the owners and me were all pretty convinced that we’d wait for Aintree.
Great weekend for the mares
Apple’s Jade was very impressive in the Irish Champion Hurdle on Saturday. Her and La Bague Au Roi are two of the best we’ve seen for a while.
After that performance it would be very hard not to go for the Champion Hurdle. She certainly deserves to take her chance.
The one thing with mares is that they can come into season in the spring. Some react differently to it - just being in season doesn’t mean they won’t win or run well - but it can have an effect.
I’m sure Gordon Elliott and his team of vets will know where she is at the time. You’d rather get beat going for a Champion Hurdle than a Mares’ Hurdle.
It would be very hard to split Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air. He has been there and done it, though.
To win three would be very difficult, but he will have been trained with the Champion as his target all season.
Rest of Leopardstown
Sir Erec was very impressive in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. He stays well and he jumps quick and neat. He picked up and jumped the last really well.
He was a very good horse on the flat. He’d be the obvious one for the Triumph at this stage.
Joseph O’Brien seems to have a bit of a monopoly on the juveniles at the minute.
It was a shame they got a small field for the Irish Gold Cup, although I completely understand why so many were pulled out. The ground was far from ideal for big heavy-topped National Hunt horses.
The best two fought out the finish, and I think they probably would have done anyway if there were 10 or so runners in it.
Bellshill jumped and travelled nicely, it was a good performance. I’m not sure the form is spectacular, though, as The Storyteller was close enough at the finish.
Sandown on Saturday
It was a slightly frustrating afternoon at Sandown as all of my horses ran well without winning.
It was Gino Trail’s first run back this season and, even though he’s 12-years-old now, he showed all of his usual enthusiasm.
I’d have thought the Grand Annual, a race he was second in last year, will be his next big target and I can’t see why he won’t run another big race.
Lostintranslation ran really well in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase. The ground was very hard work, and I don’t think he enjoyed that.
I spoke to Robbie Power on Sunday and he thought he’d definitely prefer better ground in the spring. He must still have a big chance in the JLT if he goes there.
I presume Defi Du Seuil will go for the same race. It was frustrating for me to get beat on the day, but it was nice to see Defi back to the form he was in as a juvenile hurdler.
He’s getting better with every run and seems to be peaking at the right time. They are two very good horses and I don’t think there will be much between them at Cheltenham.
The ground was bad, but it wasn’t bad enough for Folsom Blue. They didn’t go quite quick enough for him, either.
He’s a better chaser than a hurdler and I’m sure there will be a big race in him at some point. Something like the Irish National, Eider or Midlands National. He needs very soft ground and a real test of stamina.
Kayf Adventure was travelling nicely when we came down in the handicap chase. They went quite quick and I was pleased with how I was going.
He’s had a quiet season because of the weather, but if we do get a wet spring I’d like to think there’s a decent handicap in him.
Bragging rights in the rugby
I’m half-English and half-Welsh so I had the perfect weekend from a rugby perspective. It was nice to see Wales come back to beat France and then England were brilliant in Dublin on Saturday night.
Our house was half-and-half for that game, with my wife Fiona being Irish, but thankfully I came out on top for a change!
Excited to get back on Native River
There is some rain forecast this week, so hopefully the ground will be lovely at Newbury on Saturday when Native River goes for the Denman Chase.
He’s won it for the last two years and it would be lovely for him to get his head in front again to give him some confidence ahead of Cheltenham.
I know Colin and Joe Tizzard have been very happy with him since the King George.
Clan Des Obeaux was impressive at Kempton and he’d be the one to beat if he turns up.
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