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Richard Johnson: Cheltenham and horse welfare 18 03 19

18 Mar | BY Richard Johnson | MIN READ TIME |
Richard Johnson: Cheltenham and horse welfare 18 03 19

The champion jockey recaps his rides at the Cheltenham Festival before giving his views on horse safety and the BHA after last week's National Hunt Chase.

It was a frustrating week at Cheltenham and you do feel deflated when you leave on Friday without a winner.

I watched the Gold Cup back later that night and started realising that Native River had come fourth in the Gold Cup, beaten less than 10 lengths. It wasn’t a bad run by any stretch.

The difference between winning and losing is very tight, but we’ve got some exciting horses to look forward to over the next few weeks and next season.

You go there thinking you’ve got 10 or 12 good rides and you hope one or two will win. You always have to think positively in this game, so hopefully we’ll be there again next year and try to put it right.

There were still plenty of positives to take out of the week.

Native River

Native River seemed fine after the race, he just didn’t travel with his usual fluency. Colin Tizzard has spoken about putting some blinkers on to sharpen him up.

He didn’t run to his best, but you can’t be hard on him. He’s now been third, first and fourth in the last three Gold Cups.

We beat the horses we thought we had to beat. Take nothing away from the winner, on his day he’s a very good horse and he was a good winner of the race.

To be fair to Willie Mullins, he’s been trying for a long time and has gone close on so many occasions. Nobody could say he didn’t deserve it.

The Gold Cup is always a very tough race, we didn’t travel as well as we could and Clan Des Obeaux didn’t seem to get up the hill as well as they would have hoped.

We’ll have to see about the rest of the season. He’s only had three starts so far, so there must be a chance he’ll run again. I’m sure the Tizzards and the owners will have a think and see what they feel like.

I wouldn’t be writing him off, though. He’s only nine and I’m sure there are plenty more big days in him.

Olly Murphy has some exciting horses to look forward to

As I said during the week, Thomas Darby ran really well in the Supreme Novices’ on Tuesday, he did what we hoped he would do. That was his best run of his career so far and he’s going to carry on improving.

He’s one to look forward for next season. We’ll see how he comes out of the race before deciding if he has another run.

Brewin’upastorm was similar and ran another good race for Olly. He’s a horse that will improve for another summer on his back and I think he’ll be even better next season.

He didn’t quite finish his race as well as he could have and that’s all about strengthening up. There’s still a lot of improvement to come.

Nothing is set in stone about next season but as he’s already won an Irish point-to-point, so I’d have thought he’d go over fences.

Other Cheltenham reflections

Crooks Peak didn’t get up the hill on the ground in the County Hurdle. He travelled well but just didn’t go home.

I hope there’s a nice handicap for him on spring ground over the next few weeks.

Stoney Mountain didn’t run up to form in the Albert Bartlett. It was hard work for the younger horses on that ground and it could have been that the long season caught up with him.

It was the same for Samburu Shujaa in the Pertemps, he’s had a busy time of it and I’m sure there will be some more big days for him in the future.

We were delighted with Thyme Hill in the bumper. He looks the ideal sort to go novice hurdling next year over two and a half miles.

It would be nice to run him again this season, but it’s more important to think about the future so we’ll have to see.

Paisley Park and Altior are two great horses

Paisley Park was as impressive as any other horse all week. He did what he’s been doing all season, hitting his flat spot and then coming with a powerful late finish.

He looked like he was under a bit of pressure going to two out, but I thought he won really convincingly. He certainly didn’t look like a tired horse.

Altior is not as good on that ground, but he still got the job done and won very cosily. He’s just better than the rest.

The way he runs and wins is why I think he’s a horse that will last. He’s not going to do a Sprinter Sacre and win by 20 lengths, which is actually a benefit for him. There’s nothing to suggest he’s going to get beaten.

BHA and horse welfare

I understand that the BHA is under pressure regarding horse welfare, but we’re all working hard to produce good racing and are all very conscious about welfare.

I think there was a slight overreaction on Tuesday. Perhaps one or two of the rides in the National Hunt Chase weren’t the best, but it would have been good if they could have looked at it and sat down with the jockeys after the meeting, so they can learn.

There was a big reaction straight away and that grabs the headlines. I’m not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand, but the timing wasn’t ideal.

We all love horses and the care, time and effort that goes into looking after them is second to none, not just during Cheltenham but throughout the whole year.

It would be good to show more of how much we care about them and the amazing welfare they get. That message needs to come across.

We’re always trying to improve things, we’re not standing still, whether that be veterinary science or the overall management of horses.

At the end of the day, we’re all aiming for the same thing when it comes to the welfare of horses. It would be nice if we could all work together to achieve the same goal.

Back To The Thatch

Back To The Thatch travelled well for a long way in the Midlands Grand National on Saturday.

He’s only seven and he just struggled on the ground. He jumped the last well but crumpled on landing.

It was a disappointing end to the week, as I thought he had a big chance. There will be other big days for him in the future, though.

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Richard Johnson

Four-time champion jump jockey who is second on the all-time list for most National Hunt winners in the UK.

Richard Johnson

Four-time champion jump jockey who is second on the all-time list for most National Hunt winners in the UK.