Richard Johnson: All I had to do was steer *H&H VIP*

  • Horse & Hound is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy. Learn more
  • Smad Place was an impressive winner of the BetBright Trial Chase Cheltenham on Saturday and I was lucky to pick up the spare ride, as his regular jockey Wayne Hutchinson was injured. Someone else’s misfortune was my good luck; Wayne had his foot squashed a bit the day before, but with luck it’s not too bad. Smad Place jumped really well and put in a very good performance. I know the horse quite well, having been up against him in the past, and I watched replays of his Hennessy win and Kempton run ahead of the race on Saturday, so I just had to steer him, really.

    Alan King and his owners have decided on the Gold Cup as Smad Place’s target now, and I think they’re right, especially if the ground comes up soft. If he keeps running well I think that he’ll be a live Gold Cup contender.

    Cheltenham rarely needs to have inspections, and it was lucky racing went ahead after the heavy rain. It was very testing, but there were some standout performances.

    One of those was Yanworth, also trained by Alan King. You’d expect a horse to win as easily as he did in a mid-week race against lesser rivals, not at Cheltenham on a Saturday.

    Thistlecrack was also impressive, he’s improving constantly and is a worthy favourite ahead of the Festival.

    Everyone’s been saying the Brits can’t beat Willie Mullins, but this weekend gave us some hope as Willie had good horses, but they didn’t go so well. We’ll be fearing him come March, but it was a good weekend for the home runners.

    An amazing charity

    AP McCoy has been named as the new president of the Injured Jockeys Fund, H&H’s charity for 2016, which does fantastic work for the racing industry and for those who suffer life-changing injuries through the sport.

    You couldn’t have a better man than AP to follow in the footsteps of John Francome and the late Lord Oaksey as president. It shows that after a glittering career in the saddle AP is still honoured to be asked to hold such a position.

    The charity has two rehabilitation centres — Oaksey House and Jack Berry House — and does great work. Lord Oaksey would be proud. It is also involved in work with the International Concussion and Head Injury Research Foundation.

    This research focuses on sports, from horseracing to American football, looking at the long-term effects of head trauma. Dr Michael Turner, the former British Horseracing Authority doctor, is involved too. Little is known about concussion, so the more we can find out the better.

    Cheltenham build-up

    Victoria Pendleton finished second for the first time in a point-to-point at Milborne St Andrew at the weekend and it won’t be long before she gets her head in front.

    She’s a stylish rider and I wish her the best. It would be a great story if she made it to the Foxhunter at Cheltenham, and the publicity for racing is good. She’s worked hard and deserves some credit; it’s not as easy as it looks on TV.

    We’re all delighted February is here and with luck the weather will improve and we’ve missed a few meetings recently due to the rain.

    Phillip [Hobbs] has a couple of entries in the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury, so that’s our focus for now. Cheltenian has run a couple of good races recently and should go there. Sternrubin, who was in the dead head at Ascot in December with Jolly’s Cracked It, is also aimed there.

    It’s all eyes on Cheltenham now: the build-up has begun and you can feel the excitement in the yards. It’s the one thing on everyone’s minds.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 4 February 2016