Richard Johnson: Cheltenham and a harsh punishment [H&H VIP]

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  • The build-up to the Cheltenham Festival is always high pressured. It’s nerve-racking as everyone — trainers, jockeys, lads and owners — is hoping that nothing goes wrong at the last minute.

    As a jockey you want to make sure you do a good job. When it’s going well Cheltenham is the best place in the world; when it’s not going so well it can be an extremely hard week. Ideally you want to get off the mark as soon as possible as an early win will give you that confidence boost.

    Cheltenham has an amazing atmosphere though — Gold Cup day is like no other day of the year.

    Everyone is on great form and excited; so much hard work has been put in to get there. You just hope the horses can do themselves justice and perform to the best of their ability on the day.

    A nice book of rides

    I have several good rides. In the Ryanair Chase I’m on Wishfull Thinking. As a 12-year-old you might think he’s a bit old for that, but he’s been in as good form as he’s ever been in and he’s already got two big wins under his belt this season (the Old Roan and the Peterborough Chase).

    He’s a 25-1 shot but I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t run well. He seems in very good order at home, and there’s no reason why be shouldn’t be in the mix.

    One of my best chances is Cheltenian in the County Hurdle. He finished second at Newbury in the Betfair Hurdle last month and won the Champion Bumper in 2011. He’s a high-class horse: he’s big and strong and he’s an improving sort.

    Silviniaco’s the one to beat

    I don’t think I have a ride in the Gold Cup this year, which is a shame, but I’ll be interested to watch.

    Silvinaco Conti is the best horse in the race, and, as a jockey, I definitely believe he’s the one I’d want to be on.

    It will be interesting to see if he handles it this year, he didn’t quite make it up the hill last year [he was fourth]. If he stays, he’ll win.

    He’s been in good form this season and ran very well in the King George. All of Paul Nicholls’ horses are in fantastic order and he does very little wrong as a trainer, so you’d have to be watching Silviniaco Conti.

    If you take him out, the race is wide open — Lord Windermere won last year but he hasn’t done much since. He’d enjoy the better ground and you have to respect him.

    I also think Coneygree is one to watch. I was very impressed with him when we won the Denman Chase [when Richard picked up the ride as Nico de Boinville was off]. I thought he jumped really well and he ticks all the right boxes. He’s a very exciting horse and should run a very big race.

    A harsh ruling

    Jason Maguire has to sit out the Cheltenham Festival following a 14-day non-trier ban picked up at Ludlow on Born To Succeed. I understand the British Horseracing Authority has to be clear cut on horses doing their best every day of the week, but sometimes a young horse can pull too much and you want to educate them. He felt the horse was beaten and he was trying to look after it — it wasn’t a case of not trying.

    If a horse is being stopped I’m all for throwing the book at the jockey, but when he’s looking after a young horse it seems harsh.

    Last year Jason was off injured, so to miss the Festival because of something so simple must be very disappointing.

    Meanwhile, since AP announced he was retiring, more and more people are at the races. It’s busy everywhere he goes.

    He has a great following and it’s brilliant for the sport. I don’t think he realised how full-on his “final tour” was going to be when he revealed his plans last month.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 12 March 2015