Richard Johnson: A flying start to the season [H&H VIP]

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  • The season is under way and it’s been a great start so far — both for the sport in terms of top-class racing, and for me as I’ve had a couple of big winners already.

    The past two weeks Philip Hobbs and I have had two Saturday winners in big races — Wishfull Thinking in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree (25 October) and Menorah in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby (1 November).

    To have those winners so early on in the season is a great boost for me, and also for Philip and the yard.

    They all work very hard so it’s brilliant for them. The horses are in good form; it always makes it easy to do your job when it’s going well.

    Stable stars back on top

    It was fantastic for Wishfull Thinking to win as the oldest horse in the race, at 11. He’s been performing well for the past few seasons and credit to Philip as it’s very difficult to keep an older horse going at the top level.

    Heading to Aintree we were being realistic — we thought he had a good chance of being in the first four, so were pleasantly surprised when he won by 12 lengths from the seven- year-old Edgardo Sol.

    He’s in great health and it’s nice for the yard to have one of its stars back in the winner’s enclosure.

    He’s always been lively — that’s the best way to put it — and acts more like a three-year-old at home. He can be very enthusiastic — he fell in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in 2012 as he was almost too exuberant. But he got it all right at Aintree. The good ground helped, as he has had breathing problems, and he put in a great performance.

    Menorah taking the Charlie Hall was also a good result. He’s getting older too — he’s nine now — but he’s always been a very good horse. He’s had a few detractors in the past so it was nice to prove them wrong, especially in such a strong renewal of the race.

    A busy time of year

    I try to go to Philip’s yard about once a week but I also ride for Henry Daly so I travel there weekly too.

    I mostly do schooling rather than riding work. Jumping is one of the most important aspects of racing and it’s important they learn to do it correctly.

    It’s the same in all disciplines — whether you’re showjumping, eventing or racing — if they can do the basics then they are in a better position to win. There are some that are obviously more natural than others, but if you get some good work and quality jumping at home then it gives you confidence on the racecourse.

    Looking ahead

    People are already talking about the trainers’ championship and although it’s a bit early in the season to tell, Philip certainly has a nice bunch of horses this year and he’s looking good.

    Every year I set myself the same goal — to be champion jockey and every year AP McCoy doesn’t let me get near it.

    It’s still my main aim again this year, but as it’s not that realistic I just want to ride as many winners as possible. I’ve already had a good start on 74 (see Q&A) so I just hope I can continue like that.

    The next couple of weeks are going to be very busy — the three- day Paddy Power meeting is coming up at Cheltenham (14-16 November) and that really signals that the season has got going.

    There are some improvements happening at the course at the moment so it all looks a bit different, but I’m sure it will be great once it’s completed.

    I’ll most likely be on Persian Snow in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and hopefully he’ll have a good chance.

    Balthazar King also goes for the cross-country — he loves it round Cheltenham and in that race it really is all about the horse you’re riding. He’s now won around there three times and he’s a good and brave jumper, a very athletic horse.

    When the cross-country was first brought in some people thought it would be a lesser race, but now top class horses run in it and it’s proved to be very competitive.

    This column was originally published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 6 November, 2014