Richard Johnson: horses for your Cheltenham notebook *H&H VIP*

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  • There have been some small fields recently. One reason for this is that there is a lot of racing on, but also the conditions really are attritional.

    It’s obviously disappointing for the sport to have three-runner races, but courses are doing a lot to keep racing on.

    We’re all hoping for the rain to stop as it’s getting everyone down, the ground is hard work and it takes a lot out of the horses.

    Balthazar King is coming on well ahead of Cheltenham and trainer Philip Hobbs seems happy with him. It would be lovely to get him out for a bit of a play on a cross-country course, but the ground is too bad.

    Don’t write off Dodging Bullets

    Top Gamble was a very nice winner for me at Newbury on Betfair Super Saturday. I was lucky that Jamie Moore was at Warwick so I took the ride.

    He loved the ground and looks a very smart two-mile chaser.

    To be fair to Dodging Bullets, who was beaten 10 lengths, it’s the first time he has run since winning the Champion Chase last March.

    He’ll certainly improve from that run and the conditions definitely favoured my horse more than him. I’m sure you’ll see a different horse next month — don’t write off Dodging Bullets yet.

    Top Gamble was the first winner I’d ridden for Kerry Lee, although I’ve had plenty for her father, Richard. Kerry took over from him this season and it’s a real family affair. She’s doing a great job and to have four Saturday winners, including the Welsh National winner, for a small trainer in her first season is a great achievement.

    It was a day for the girls on Saturday — as well as Kerry’s win, Venetia Williams trained the Denman Chase winner Houblon Des Obeaux and Lizzie Kelly rode the Betfair Hurdle winner Agrapart. Girls are taking over the world.

    All eyes on Cheltenham

    Two weeks ago I won a good handicap hurdle with Saddlers Encore at Sandown.

    He slightly surprised me as he never really shows much at home, but he looks as if he’s booked his ticket for Cheltenham and he’s definitely one for the notebook.

    The Festival is now well and truly on the horizon, with only four weeks to go.

    Aintree announced this week that the prize-money for the Crabbie’s Grand National Festival has gone up to nearly £3m in total. It has really grown in the past 20 years that I’ve been attending, and almost mirrors Cheltenham in terms of prize-money.

    Weighty issues

    The Racing Post ran a special report on jockeys and weight management last week. It highlights what a daily struggle it is for many jockeys.

    As jump jockeys we’re luckier, with higher weights, but for the lads riding on the Flat it’s not easy.

    Anyone who’s ever been on a diet knows that depriving yourself of anything leaves you frustrated and moody. We’re very lucky that we have the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) to help — we have access to dieticians and counsellors for all sorts of problems.

    There has been a lot of investment in improving the welfare of both horses and riders over the years from the PJA and the British Horseracing Authority. I’m proud to be president of the PJA and I feel the support we receive is second to none in the world of sport.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 18 February 2016