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Richard Johnson: Cheltenham forecast looks good for Native River

The champion jockey previews his rides at the upcoming Festival, including the Gold Cup chances of the Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old.

05 Mar | BY Richard Johnson | MIN READ TIME |
Richard Johnson: Cheltenham forecast looks good for Native River

150 on the board

It will be good to get back into the swing of things at Kempton on Monday – you don’t often get six days off at this time of year!

I’ve got a busy week with some Cheltenham previews and everyone’s thoughts are on the Festival with just a few days to go.

Here are five horses that I’m really looking forward to riding next week.

Native River: Cheltenham Gold Cup 

Native River is obviously the one I’m most looking forward to riding this year. He’s had a later start than the rest of them, but that could actually be a bonus.

It was a perfect return at Newbury last time in the Denman Chase and he comes into this as a fresh horse, whereas last year he’d had a busy season.

I’d say it’s an open Gold Cup and he has every chance if he reproduces his run from 12 months ago. Don’t forget that Colin Tizzard’s horses weren’t flying then, and they’re in great form now.

We know he stays, he’s a versatile horse and soft ground perhaps inconveniences others more than it does him.

The forecast looks like it’s going to be pretty damp and that is good news for us as the water table must be pretty high at Cheltenham.

Of the others, I’d be most fearful of last year’s winner, Sizing John, who was very impressive that day. He seems to perform best on good ground, though, so any rain will be in our favour rather than his.

La Bague Au Roi: Mares Hurdle

We were leaning towards the Stayers’ Hurdle, but that is becoming more competitive with the likes of Yanworth so we don’t know which race she’ll run in yet.

In the Mares’ Hurdle you’ve got Apple’s Jade, who is one of the bankers of the meeting, but maybe it’s best to take on one top-class horse rather than four or five in the Stayers’.

The ground will be key to the decision. I could definitely see her finishing second to Apple’s Jade and you never know what could happen on the day.

She handles all sorts of ground and stays well, so we’re looking forward to her.

Western Ryder: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

I was initially disappointed after the Tolworth, but I don’t think he enjoyed the ground or the small field. He just didn’t show his form.

The form still looks strong because he had beaten the winner, Summerville Boy, the time before at Cheltenham, and Kalashnikov – who was second in the Tolworth – came out and won next time.

Western Ryder ran a good race in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon last month. I think Vinndication is a decent horse and the pair of us pulled a long way clear of the rest.

At this stage we’re not sure if Western Ryder will run in the Supreme or Ballymore. We always felt 2m5f would suit him the best, but if the ground is very soft we could still go for the Supreme.

Whichever race he runs in, he’ll be shorter than his current price and I think he’ll have a good each-way chance in either.

Louis’ Vac Pouch: Pertemps Final

He won really well at Aintree back in November and hasn’t run again since because we’ve been waiting for this race. It’s a dream for his owners to have one at Cheltenham with a real chance.

The form of that race was franked by Beer Goggles winning the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and it’s been a deliberate break for this horse. He looks to be improving and is definitely progressive.

He needs a true, fast run race to make sure he settles. He could be a little keen after such a long break, so it will be up to me to get him relaxed and give him the best chance of winning.

Aintree showed that three miles is the right trip for him, although I don’t think he’d want it too soft. Good-to-soft would be fine.

Crooks Peak: Champion Bumper

He’s only run twice, but he’s won both, including at Cheltenham. He’s shown natural class and talent and the form from the Cheltenham race has worked out well.

We gave him a break after that as we wanted to aim at this and give him a chance to strengthen up. I think there’s a strong chance he will have improved since that last run.

There are lots of bumper horses talked about and his form looks as strong as anything in this country.

Richard Johnson

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

Richard Johnson

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