Richard Johnson: Cheltenham madness is upon us *H&H VIP*

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  • The madness of Cheltenham is now upon us — every night seems to be a preview and everyone is excited about the Festival.

    The horses are doing their last pieces of work and it’s a nervous couple of weeks as you have to hope they don’t pick up any last-minute injuries. Faugheen is one of the big names that has suffered that fate. Luckily it’s not career-threatening, but the Champion Hurdle will miss him.

    I’ve got a few nice chances and my agent Dave Roberts will be busy seeing if I can pick up any spare rides nearer the time.

    Garde La Victoire is one of my best chances, he goes to the Arkle or JLT Novices’ Chase. Village Vic has also been a revelation this year — he’s improved dramatically in a short time, and I’m looking forward to riding him.

    As good as ever

    Balthazar King is also in fine form ahead of the cross-country race. We schooled him over cross-country fences at Pontispool the other day and I couldn’t be happier with him.

    Ideally he needs good ground but he’s got to have a fantastic chance in the race.

    He had a nasty fall in the Grand National but it doesn’t seem to have bothered him one bit; he’s a very straightforward horse. I thought he might have a look at the fences, as they are more spooky than normal schooling jumps, but he was not hanging around — I was just trying to slow him down. He was enjoying it so much, and I guarantee if I wasn’t happy with him he wouldn’t run — he’s been a fantastic horse to us. He’s had all his vet checks and he’s as good as ever.

    An inclusive sport

    Victoria Pendleton has been confirmed to ride in the Cheltenham Foxhunter and it’s been great publicity for the sport. I definitely don’t agree with those who say she’s unsafe to ride — she’s equal to, if not better than, a third of people riding in point-to-points and hunter chases as it is. She’s stylish and hard working, and proves to those at home that it’s not as easy as it looks.

    There are always going to be “experts” watching from the sofa, but no jockey wants to fall off — it hurts — and I wish her luck.

    It shows how inclusive racing is. Another example of the camaraderie in the sport was Brodie Hampson winning the Royal Artillery in her terminally ill father’s colours.

    Jennys Surprise, owned by the Yes No Wait Sorries, was leased for the race and she gave it a great ride — it was an amazingly special day.

    You couldn’t fail to be touched and there isn’t a person in racing that would say it wasn’t a fantastic win.

    I scored my 200th winner of the season recently — the first time I’ve reached that. It’s nice to join elite jockeys like Peter Scudamore and AP McCoy in doing so. I had the figure in mind as a target, but I just had to hope that the season carried on well.

    I’m up for ride of month for my 200th winner, and so is Brodie — but mine can’t come near hers and she gets my vote.

    Positive signs

    It was announced last week that new legislation, the Racing Right, will be introduced by the government next April.

    The scheme will replace the current levy system, and will close the loophole that has allowed some bookmakers to avoid making any contribution to the sport via offshore betting. Hopefully it will lead to greater financial security for the sport, and it’s great that the government is getting behind racing and helping its future.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 10 March 2016