Richard Johnson: An exciting championship race with money worth having *H&H VIP*

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  • The National Hunt season is really getting going now and we’ve already been lucky enough to see some of the top horses out.

    Most courses have soft ground at the moment, so many of the better horses have been coming out the past fortnight without having to risk fast ground.

    Coneygree was very impressive at Sandown. He’s a horse I’ve ridden before — winning the Denman Chase — and it was great to see him come back with such an easy win by 25 lengths.

    He jumped and travelled well and looked in great form. I think he’ll be one of the best chasers we see all season and he’ll be hard to beat in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

    Don Cossack also looked exciting at Down Royal — he’s big and strong so there might be a good clash in March.

    Fastest 100

    It’s been a brilliant start to the season for me — I have reached 100 winners faster than ever before.

    Since AP’s retirement I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from owners, trainers and the public. I’ve picked up some winners that AP would have ridden, especially from trainers Gordon Elliott and Jonjo O’Neill.

    I’d love to be champion this year, after 16 years as runner-up to AP, but we’re not even halfway through the season yet. Tim Vaughan had a good start, which helped, and Philip Hobbs’ horses are hitting the ground running, which bodes well.

    Wishfull Thinking finished second in the Old Roan Chase, running a great race for a 12-year-old. Garde La Victoire put in an excellent performance winning at Uttoxeter, and I’m looking forward to him running at Cheltenham this weekend. I also have Copper Kay at the Open meeting; she’s exciting and could be top-class.

    AP will be trying dressage at Cheltenham, instructed by Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin. It will be a different experience for him, but he’s very competitive so he’ll want to do well. AP will also be heading to the TV studio at the weekend as he’s presenting for Channel 4 Racing. It will be good to see him there with the pundits to add a different view.

    New prizes

    I am very pleased that there will be a cash prize for the champion jockey for the first time. The fund is £65,000 to be spread around — including down to fifth and a northern champion — with £15,000 for the winner.

    Another addition this year is the Triple Crown of Chasing — a £1m prize to any horse that wins the Betfair Chase, King George and Gold Cup, put up by Jockey Club Racecourses. I’m not against it but that kind of money might be better spread across the lower levels to reward those owners.

    There’s been plenty in the press about women jockeys after Melbourne Cup winner Michelle Payne spoke out against chauvinism. I don’t think we see it that much in National Hunt. Women riding well are as good as any man, as we see in other disciplines. If you’re good enough you get chances, as Katie Walsh, Nina Carberry, Bridget Andrews and Gina Ellis (née Andrews) prove.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 12 November 2015