Richard Johnson, the current Stobart Champion Jump Jockey and ambassador for leading online betting company Betway, reflects on a damp New Year’s Day at Cheltenham.
“Happy New Year to you all! Although it was horrendous weather at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, it was a historic day with the return of racing on ITV.
“I haven’t had the chance to watch all the coverage yet, but it was great to see decent viewing figures.
“They obviously had to contend with horrible conditions on their first day. I heard some positive and some negative bits, which you’d expect, but overall it seemed like they’d created a fun atmosphere.
“I’m sure there will be a few little things they can tweak if they need to.”
On the racing front, Johnson had another thrilling ride around Prestbury Park on the fantastic Village Vic, who again just came up short after a brilliant front-running effort:
“Village Vic ran his heart out again, it was another fantastic effort from him. It’s frustrating for everybody when they run so well but get beat, but it’s a case of frustration rather than disappointment.
“Him and Top Gamble finishing so close to each other shows that last season’s form is very solid. Village Vic really deserves to win a good prize which hopefully he will do over the next couple of months.
“They had a lot of rain and the surface can change very quickly at this time of year. He loved the ground, but trying to concede so much weight in those conditions is very difficult.
“I’m sure he’ll be entered in two or three races at Cheltenham. It could be the Ryanair again or possibly a handicap.
“On a flat track, he could also step up to three miles so there will be plenty more opportunities for him. Unfortunately, he’s now paying the price slightly for doing so well last season.”
Johnson also took time out to reflect on the rest of his rides among the opening gambits of the New Year:
“I’d never sat on Cole Harden before and he was a great spare ride to pick up in the Relkeel Hurdle. He jumped and travelled enthusiastically and ran well to finish third.
“He was perhaps a little cautious at Wetherby on his first start over fences. The return to hurdles suited but this wouldn’t have been his ground and the trip was probably a little on the sharp side.
“He felt in good order, though, and the fire clearly still burns. The staying hurdle division looks quite open this season and I can see him running well in the big staying races in the spring.
“It was a more encouraging effort from Fingal Bay in the handicap hurdle. He kept going from two out to the winning post, which he hadn’t been doing in his past few races.
“He doesn’t look quite the force of old, so hopefully the handicapper will drop him a couple of pounds, then he might be able to get his head back in front.
“Lamb Or Cod travelled quite nicely for a circuit before the ground got the better of him. He just couldn’t cope with conditions and we’ll probably have to wait until the spring now to see a performance like Chepstow.”
A day earlier, Johnson had been in action at Warwick, and had some encouraging rides that gave him hope for the future:
“Sparkling River did it well in the novices’ handicap hurdle. I think she’s one that will keep improving, especially when going up in trip.
“Copper Kay had her race won in the mares’ novices’ hurdle and then threw it away which was frustrating. She jumped and travelled well, but she has a bit of character about her. In the future, we will try to get a lead for longer.
“I was very pleased with Ice Cool Champs in the bumper. This was his first start on a racecourse and he comes from a good staying family.”
Looking ahead, several meetings will have to beat the cold, but Johnson is hopeful of some good rides to warm up the coldest afternoons:
“It’s a fairly quiet week, but hopefully Strong Pursuit will be hard to beat in the novices’ hurdle at Hereford on Wednesday. He won really well at Wincanton last time.
“Westend Story is another novice hurdler that we like and he could be out at Ludlow or Wetherby later in the week.”
You can read the latest Richard Johnson Betway blog in its entirety by clicking here.