Richard Johnson: Even if he rode a three-legged donkey it would probably be favourite…[H&H VIP]

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  • Everything is now gearing up for the Grand National meeting at Aintree. As a jockey you’ve got to be careful not to get suspended or injured in between Cheltenham or Aintree as it’s a busy few weeks coming up.

    I feel sorry for Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell, who picked up injuries last week, with a broken leg and arm respectively. It will be a massive disappointment for them to miss the Irish and English Grand Nationals.

    I’ll be riding Balthazar King at Aintree. As he finished second last year I have my fingers crossed he can go one better this year.

    He’ll have the same routine at home in the next couple of weeks. He hasn’t had a run since December — he skipped Cheltenham for the Grand National — but he has a good record when fresh. He has course form and has been trained for the race so, all being well, I’d hope he goes there with a chance.

    The Grand National is a gruelling race so you need a horse that really tries. He also has to be willing, clever and able to think on his feet.

    Jumping is a massive part of it too. Even though the fences have been altered you’d be a fool to think they are dandy brushes. With 39 other horses you also need some luck and a clear run.

    The AP McCoy bandwagon keeps getting bigger — fans are realising they don’t have much longer to see him ride. He beat me at the weekend [AP winning on Un Ace at Ascot], so I’m half delighted I won’t have to go up against him anymore, and half sad that he won’t be around every day — it’s a double-edged sword.

    At the moment it looks as if he’ll be riding Shutthefrontdoor in the National, but I think he’ll leave it until later to make a decision. Whatever he rides I would have thought it will go off favourite. Even if he rode a three-legged donkey it would probably be favourite…

    Flat is back

    The Flat season kicked off at the weekend and it’s nice to see some of the staying races as you might pick up some jumps horses of the future. It’s lovely to watch the top races, and it was great to see Richard Hughes starting his final season with a win at Meydan [on Sole Power].

    The new look Flat championship [which will now start on Guineas weekend at Newmarket in May and finish on British Champions Day at Ascot in October, losing eight weeks] has got everyone talking.

    I can’t see it will make a big difference to the results. Ryan Moore is the best in the world — he’ll ride in the biggest race of the weekend wherever that is, but changing the rules gives him more chance to be champion jockey.

    There’s also been debate over the bonus [£25,000 to the winner, while whoever rides the most winners in Britain during the calendar year will win £15,000, put up by Great British Racing and British Champions Series]. But in any other sport the top players get rewarded financially, as well as the accolade. It’s good for racing and jockeys and opportunities should be grabbed with both hands — it’s a positive for the sport.

    Flat rider Joseph O’Brien made his hurdles debut on Sunday (29 March) at Limerick, finishing fifth.

    Riding for his father means he has good horses, but he’s been up against the top jockeys since he was very young, and he wouldn’t be put up on those rides if he wasn’t good enough. What he’s achieved so far is amazing.

    But as you get older it gets harder to battle with your weight — mentally and physically. He’s a tall lad and he’s done amazingly well with his weight so far.

    He’s more than capable of riding over jumps — whether he’ll want to do it long term, we’ll see, but it wouldn’t be a surprise.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 2 April 2015