Richard Johnson: Christmas on the sidelines [H&H VIP]

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  • The main talking point for me the past couple of weeks has been the fact I’m currently sitting out with a 12-day ban.

    It was very straightforward — I made a mistake and took the wrong course at Exeter — but it is very disappointing to miss the Christmas period [I’m off from 19 December until 2 January]. However, I just have to get on with it.

    I do think a 12-day ban is quite harsh, as it was a genuine mistake, but the rules have to be followed and it was no one else’s fault — I am just annoyed with myself.

    We bypassed the fence on the first circuit — as the first obstacle you tackle can’t be a water jump — and I took the same route the second time around. I realised straight away and pulled up but it was very frustrating.

    Fortunately for the connections, the horse [Benbane Head] won the next time out at Cheltenham.

    As this goes to press on 23 December, by the time H&H comes out the King George will have taken place. I would have been riding Menorah (pictured) in the race, and both him and Philip Hobbs’ other horse, Wishfull Thinking both have great chances.

    Tom O’Brien is a class jockey and is proving an able replacement, so I only hope I’ve still got a job to go back to!

    While I’m off I’ve been doing some presenting for Channel 4 Racing. I wouldn’t say being on camera was second nature to me, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

    I’ll also be working with Channel 4 for the Welsh National and at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. I’m pleased to have been asked as it keeps me involved in the sport while I’m off.

    The upside of the ban, however, is that I can enjoy the full Christmas refreshments and entertainment more than usual.

    I’ll be hunting on Christmas Eve, my wife Fiona will be riding Looks Like Trouble, while I’ll probably be leading my daughter on her pony.

    A gritty performance

    It was great to see Reve De Sivola win his third Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot before Christmas. It was another ride I would have had — I’ve won the past two renewals on him — but it was a great training performance from Nick Williams to get him to that level. He’s on good form and it’s a huge effort and shows what a tough horse he is. Not many horses can emulate Big Buck’s and win it three times.

    Small fields

    The British Horseracing Authority is putting plans in place to combat the issue of small fields.

    There was a good piece in the Racing Post recently in which Venetia Williams commented that in France the prize money is spread across the first six runners rather than the first two or three. Whatever level you’re at it is always an incentive to have some kind financial reward.

    We’ve had such good weather for so long that there have been no missed fixtures — which means horses are spread around more and you have smaller fields. You can’t predict that — had they cut down the number of fixtures and it had been bad weather, then the sport could have been struggling.

    As a jockey small fields are clearly beneficial as there’s nothing to get in our way, and you have more chance of picking up prize money.

    But bigger fields are better for the bookies, which are obviously a massive side of racing, and for the general public. Races with eight or so runners are more exciting than those that have just two or three, and I agree that televised racing should be as competitive as possible for spectators.

    Last week at Olympia there was a Flat jockeys vs jump jockeys challenge, in which both teams took part in a relay over showjumps against the clock.

    The jumps boys won by about 22 seconds — I’d said National Hunt jockeys are a bit more competitive, and that showed as they flew around the course.

    John Francome is not the youngest now but he was amazing to watch. He has brilliant horsemanship and his style has not been lost.

    The competition raised money for the Injured Jockeys Fund too, which is a great cause, and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 1 January 2015