Richard Johnson capped a magnificent year by scooping an award at the Lesters – and fresh from that success, shared his thoughts on the coming Festive period of racing with Betway.
“We had a great night at the Lesters last night and obviously it was great to get the jump jockey of the year award. That was a first for me which was special.
“I’ve now got a good couple of days to spend with the family, which is always nice. Then it’s all focus on Boxing Day which is a fantastic days’ racing.
“I’ve got 10-7 which isn’t too light, so I should be able to enjoy a decent Christmas lunch with the family. I’ve certainly had to be stricter at Christmas before! Doing something more like 10-4 would have been a bit tougher.”
The big race on Boxing Day is the King George VI Chase, with a small but select field, headlined by two-time winner Silviniaco Conti and the Colin Tizzard pair of Cue Card and Thistlecrack.
“It’s a very tricky one to call, as both of Colin Tizzard’s horses are obviously very good.
“But, with all the potential, Thistlecrack is the one that I would want to be on if he gets it all right on the day.
“For Thistlecrack, it’s a bonus that there’s only five runners. A small field will help him as he’s not going to get a rough race, and with Josses Hill and Silviniaco Conti in the field, Tom Scudamore should get a decent gallop.
“He’s the one I would have to side with.”
Another small field lines up for the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle on the same card:
“For me, The New One sets the standard and he’s the one they all have to beat. Yanworth is potentially very good, but whether he is quick enough round Kempton over two miles remains to be seen.
“He had to work a bit to win over further at Ascot last time and this race will be much sharper. The New One showed he’s in great form when winning at Cheltenham and he’s got the beating of a lot of these.
“I kick-off the day with Glaring in the novices’ hurdle (12.55pm). He made a perfect start over hurdles and looks like a very nice prospect.
“Kempton is a flat and easy two miles which should suit. He won at Huntingdon last time which is pretty similar and you’d like to think he can transfer that form to Kempton.
“Poker School has taken to fences really well and he’s another nice ride to pick up in the novices’ chase (1.30pm). If he can reproduce the form of his last win round Ascot then he’d have a very strong chance.
“Amore Alto put in a very good performance last time out too and he’d have a good chance in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (2.05pm). He jumps and stays really well and we’ll use those tactics again.
“It’s always a bonus when your horse has experience. A number of these horses haven’t had too many runs and we’ll look to put them under a bit of pressure.
“After his run at Cheltenham the other day, Frodon could be the one to beat as winning the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup as a four-year-old is some achievement.
“He stayed on well that day and I think the step up in trip will suit him and possibly bring out further improvement. He gets the weight allowance too which is always a bonus.
“The main reason I’m at Kempton is to ride Lisheen Prince in the final race (3.45pm). We thought he’d improve for the step up in trip at Sandown and he did exactly that. He’s a very nice young horse and he’s definitely improving.
“I’ve ridden a few others in the race, Muthabir and Instant Karma, and it’s a very competitive handicap hurdle. I’d like to think that Lisheen Prince, off a mark of 124, can go well here as he’s a horse we have high hopes for.”
On Tuesday, Chepstow stages its biggest day of the year with the Welsh National the undoubted highlight:
“If the ground stays decent, then hopefully I’ll be on Native River in the Welsh National (Tuesday 2.40pm). I’d like to think that if he’s in the same form of his Hennessy win then he’d take a lot of beating.
“He’s definitely an improving horse and seems to be thriving on his racing. The Tizzard team have their horses in rude health, and as long as the ground is suitable he’s one I’m most looking forward to over Christmas.
“As for a horse that could pay for the turkey, it has to be Onefitzall in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (2.15pm) at Wincanton. He did it well at Newbury last time and is definitely one to be on,” he concluded.