In-demand Richard Johnson has chosen to partner Ballyoptic after being offered the mount on Lil Rockerfeller in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
The champion jockey will take up the spare ride on the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Ballyoptic which came up for grabs due to the serious injuries suffered by Ryan Hatch at Cheltenham on Friday.
Johnson will be bidding to win the Grade One contest for the fifth time after victories through Anzum (1996), Mighty Man (1999) and Reve De Sivola (2012 and 2013).
“I am very lucky to pick up Ryan Hatch’s spare ride on Ballyoptic. His bad luck has been my good luck. It is nice to know he is doing well in hospital,” he said.
Ballyoptic was beaten six lengths by Unowhatimeanharry in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last month, but Johnson feels his mount will be better suited to Ascot.
“From there I think he has got to improve to beat Harry Fry’s horse (Unowhatimeanharry). Harry’s horses are in good form, but so are Nigel Twiston-Davies’,” he said.
“At Ascot it’s a stayers’ track and he won the three-mile race at Aintree last year, so I would like to think a stiff track at Ascot would suit.”
Johnson’s change of heart means Neil King has had to look elsewhere for a jockey for Lil Rockerfeller. The Wiltshire trainer has to find a replacement for Trevor Whelan, who is serving a 16-day suspension.
“I don’t know who rides him yet. I’m waiting to hear,” said King.
“The horse is in really good form.”
Daryl Jacob will ride French challenger Alex De Larredya.
“It’s very sporting of the owners and the trainer to have a go and Daryl Jacob will ride,” said Anthony Bromley, racing manager to Simon Munir and Isaac Soude.
“Daryl has been to school him over the English hurdles.”