Richard Johnson has already gained the entire principal occasions on the Cheltenham Competition a minimum of as soon as – however he’s approaching this yr’s assembly with as a lot vim and vigour as ever.
The previous champion jockey has been using at racing’s showpiece fixture for the reason that days when he was capable of declare 7lb again in 1995.
His first victory got here 4 years later, on Anzum within the Stayers’ Hurdle, and since then he has gained the Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles, the Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster and the Gold Cup twice, first with Appears Like Hassle and extra lately via Native River.
It’s the latter who’s spearheading a choose staff Johnson is wanting ahead to subsequent week, following a show at Sandown which warmed the hearts of many Nationwide Hunt followers.
“Anybody that likes sport and racing typically, they love seeing somebody on the prime of their recreation for 5 or 6 seasons. Sandown actually gave me the arrogance that he can go to the Gold Cup with a improbable probability,” mentioned Johnson.
“I noticed Joe Tizzard (son of coach Colin) on Wednesday and we joked we hoped it might rain till subsequent Saturday! So long as the bottom is on the slower aspect I feel he goes with an enormous probability.
“He is crushed all those in England and is the perfect of the English for me, I would not swap him for an additional.
“Clearly Al Boum Picture is the one to beat and we do not understand how good Champ is, however they’re going to should put a great efficiency in to beat Native River.”
It appears the 43-year-old is persistently warding off questions as as to if his personal profession is likely to be coming to an finish – however similar to Native River, there isn’t a signal of him stopping any time quickly.
“Sandown confirmed he is misplaced none of his enthusiasm and I definitely have not misplaced any of mine,” he mentioned on a name hosted by Nice British Racing.
“I like doing this. After I began it was a dream to be a jockey, let alongside be any good at it. To be rocking up at my twenty sixth Competition, most do not do this as a spectator so I am very fortunate.
“If something I am extra excited this yr than the primary. I am very fortunate, often I am going there with a great guide of rides. It would not assure a winner, however I’ve obtained half a dozen very robust rides this yr, I feel.
“After I was simply beginning out my first experience was 50-1, Robust Beau within the Kim Muir (1995) for David Nicholson when realistically if he obtained spherical it was a bonus.”
The shortest priced of Johnson’s mounts subsequent week would be the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill, who will meat former winner Paisley Park within the Stayers’ Hurdle for a 3rd time this season – with the rating at present degree.
“I feel the marginally higher floor would possibly simply assist us and he is solely had six runs over hurdles, so I might hope he’s nonetheless bettering. It’s miles from a two-horse race, although Paisley Park is the apparent one to beat,” mentioned Johnson.
“While you get crushed like at Ascot you all the time assume what you may have executed it in another way, however on the similar time I used to be actually happy as he travelled sweetly and jumped nicely. For a horse with out a lot expertise he is actually matured this yr and that’s what offers me confidence going to Cheltenham that we are able to get a unique outcome.
“He is obtained the correct profile and I nonetheless assume there may be extra to come back. The bottom is likely to be a bit extra in our favour and going to Cheltenham horses like Thyme Hill are those you need to be on. I can see him successful the Stayers’ Hurdle.”
The Hobbs-trained Zanza within the Grand Annual and a nice spare picked up on Aye Proper within the Ultima Handicap Chase because of the suspension of Callum Bewley complement Johnson’s hand properly.
Sporting John is one other Grade One-winner he can stay up for, however whether or not he takes on Envoi Allen within the Marsh or Monkfish within the Brown Advisory has nonetheless to be determined. Both method he’ll come up towards a rival who has to this point seemed the true deal.
“I feel it is going to rely on what the bottom is like as to the place he finally ends up, however sadly neither race is a simple choice. We have now to tackle both Envoi Allen or Monkfish who’re each scorching favourites,” mentioned Johnson.
“Whichever race he runs in I might wish to assume he’ll be within the combine. We all the time hear this or that may’t be crushed at Cheltenham, however everyone knows in another way as not all of the favourites win.
“Each Envoi Allen and Monkfish have already gained at Cheltenham, however they’ve nonetheless obtained to show up and produce on the day. I would not put anyone off him whichever race he runs in. He is already a Grade One winner and is excellent, it is best to by no means shrink back from one.”
For a person who has gained all of it it’s troublesome to pick only one favorite when his spotlight reel might run for hours – however his victory on the favored Rooster Booster within the 2003 Champion Hurdle is definitely one which springs to thoughts.
“It is exhausting to select a favorite, however Rooster got here alongside very early in my affiliation with Philip, possibly solely three or 4 years into the partnership,” he mentioned.
“He gave 110 per cent each time. The yr he gained the Champion Hurdle, they went very quick early and all of it simply appeared to occur for him. He was nonetheless operating away with me coming to the second-last, which should not occur in a Champion Hurdle.
“That day he was completely superior so he figures very excessive in my recollections.”
He added: “Appears Like Hassle is out within the secure right here, he is 29 now. He was an enormous a part of my profession. I might gained the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1999 on Anzum for the Duke (David Nicholson) which obtained me going, however to experience the Gold Cup winner in 2000 was an enormous motive why I began getting superb horses to experience within the prime tier.
“He is particular so to have him as a household pet is nice. We have now Menorah (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner of 2010), too. The youngsters have ridden each of them.”
If Johnson has one remorse this yr it’s that he won’t be retaining the jockeys’ championship he misplaced to Brian Hughes final season having gained the earlier 4 upon the retirement of Sir Anthony McCoy.
“I am upset and pissed off to not be concerned. Brian is concerned once more and the nice factor for him is he rides for a great deal of totally different trainers which coming as much as the tip of the season is essential,” mentioned Johnson.
“However the two Harrys (Skelton and Cobden) have two large stables and unbelievable firepower behind them. It is going to be a really busy six weeks for all of them and can most likely come right down to the final week.
“I do not know what number of I’ve obtained left in me, somebody requested me this the opposite day and that turns into a fear once they maintain asking the identical query!
“I’ve by no means actually had a weight drawback fortunately, in contrast to AP (McCoy) or Mick Fitzgerald. I am loving what I do and once you experience for Philip Hobbs it makes issues pleasurable.
“I am considering if Thyme Hill goes over fences subsequent yr he could possibly be within the Gold Cup in a few years, so there’s all the time causes to look to the long run.”