Champion jumps jockey Richard Johnson told Betway just how impressed he was with Native River’s Welsh National victory, in his latest blog.
“We went to Chepstow hoping for good to soft ground for Native River, but it was definitely soft. It was a phenomenal performance to carry that weight on that ground.
“I’ve ridden him four times and each time he’s improved. He’s got such a great attitude, he always delivers. You can’t ask for more than that.
“I see he’s now second favourite for the Gold Cup and he has to be a big player as he stays and jumps. If you take Thistlecrack out, it’s a very open race.
“Cue Card ran well in the King George, but the proximity of the other horses around him wouldn’t worry you about taking him on at Cheltenham.
“Thistlecrack is the one everyone has to beat, but he is a novice. That lack of experience could be the only chink in his armour. He was hugely impressive at Kempton and is another who is improving with each run.
“He’s learnt how to put in a short one now, which he couldn’t really do two starts back. He’s very classy and to beat a horse like Cue Card the way he did showed what a good horse he is.
“The Tizzard yard is in unbelievable form and they’ve had an amazing few days over Christmas.”
On the same afternoon that Native River triumphed in South Wales, Johnson also enjoyed Grade 1 success in the bug juvenile hurdle:
“I was very impressed with Defi Du Seuil in the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow. The mistakes up the home straight were my fault rather than him.
“I didn’t think I was going that well turning in, but when I gave him one smack he took off. It really surprised me how he picked up, he almost bolted past Evan Williams’ horse who has been very impressive this season.
“It was a really taking performance. He’s always been a good jumper so I wouldn’t worry about that. He looks a very bright prospect.”
Whilst cold weather has seen the postponement of Haydock Park on Friday, Johnson heads to Warwick on Saturday, with high hopes of ending the year with more winners.
“I’ve got four rides at Warwick on New Year’s Eve. My first is on Sparkling River in the opener (12.00pm). She’s yet to win over hurdles, although she did win a point-to-point back in February.
“This is her first start in a handicap and hopefully she can improve a little on her last run at Uttoxeter when she didn’t run too badly.
“As regular readers will know, Copper Kay is a mare I’ve always loved and the mares’ novices’ hurdle (12.30pm) looks like a great opportunity for her to get her second win of the season.
“I’ve been very pleased with her last two runs at Newbury where she’s run really well run well behind some very good mares. This is a step down in class and fingers crossed she’ll take all the beating. The step up in trip should suit her well.
“Lilly Of The Moor goes in the handicap chase (1.35pm) and was a decent winner at Warwick two starts back over 2 ½ miles. She will definitely appreciate the step up to three miles and will like the soft ground.
“Ice Cool Champs has his first racecourse start in the bumper (3.20pm). He’s done all the right things at home and hopefully will put in a nice performance.”
On Sunday, New Year’s Day, the action steps up a few notches with a quality card at Cheltenham.
“It’s always a good card at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Lamb Or Cod won really well at Chepstow last time and the good ground is perfect for him in the long distance handicap chase (12.50pm).
“He’s always wanted a sound surface and has won round the track before. He should have a good chance, but it’s a very open race.
“Village Vic won this race 12 months ago (2.00pm) and he has come out of his last run really well. We all know about him now. He loves the track and should put up another bold display.
“I definitely think this race is less competitive than his last two, so if he can run up to those performances he shouldn’t be far away.
“As De Mee was a very good winner at Aintree last time. That form looks decent and he is definitely one of the main dangers.
“Fingal Bay has been disappointing this season, but hopefully he can bounce back in the handicap hurdle (2.35pm). He has been dropped a few more pounds in the handicap and if he could find his old form he’d be very hard to beat.
“He seems fine at home and if you’d stopped the race at the end of the back straight last time at Sandown, you’d have thought he was travelling the best.
“My final ride of the day is Shearling for Brian Ellison in the bumper (3.40pm). She’s won two bumpers so she must be pretty smart.
“She also gets the mares’ allowance which helps. Brian wouldn’t be bringing her down if he didn’t think she could hope. She should have a good chance.
New Year’s Day sees a new beginning for terrestrial TV coverage of racing, with Channel 4 passing the baton back to ITV.
“It was sad to see Channel 4 broadcast their final racing programme. They’ve been huge supporters of the sport for decades and should be congratulated for their output and hard work.
But things change and it’s going to be exciting to see ITV’s first show on Sunday. I’d like to wish them the very best of luck.
“I’d also like to wish you all a happy and prosperous new year,” Johnson concluded.