Former Champion Jockey Richard Johnson’s Leading Chances At The Cheltenham Festival
2021 Cheltenham Festival – Richard Johnson Best Rides
With Davy Russell unable to ride at this year’s meeting, Richard Johnson will be the winning-most Cheltenham Festival jockey in action. He is the only active jockey to have won all four top Cheltenham prizes; Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle.
Johnson has ridden 23 festival winners, his first being Anzum at 40-1 in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1999. His first Gold Cup followed in 2000 aboard Looks Like Trouble and the Champion Chase in 2002 on Flagship Uberalles. Rooster Booster gave him his only victory in the Champion Hurdle in 2003 while Native River provided Johnson with a second Gold Cup in 2018. He finally fulfilled his career ambition of being champion jockey following the retirement of Tony McCoy, claiming the title for three successive seasons.
Native River (Gold Cup, Friday)
The horse with the best chance of providing Johnson with another Grade 1 Cheltenham success is perhaps his old friend Native River in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Native River is now 11 years of age but is still good enough to take his chance in the Gold Cup.
Colin Tizzard’s gelding showed his well-being when beating Bristol De Mai and Santini in a re-arranged Cotswold Chase at Sandown in February. He relished the heavy ground that day and Johnson will be hoping for plenty of rain to boost his Cheltenham prospects. Native River would be the oldest Gold Cup winner since What A Myth won at the age of 12 in 1969.
Sporting John (Brown Advisory Novice Chase or Marsh Novice Chase)
Sporting John has a choice of Cheltenham engagements with a final decision hinging on the ground conditions. The talented six-year-old was a surprise 14-1 winner of the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in heavy ground.
Similar conditions at Cheltenham would persuade Hobbs to run him against odds-on Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase. If the ground dries out, Sporting John will be more likely to run in the three-mile Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and could be worth a few Cheltenham free bets if you like backing outsiders
Best Of The Rest
The ground could also be a factor for Adrimel, the winner of the Grade 2 Leamington Novices’ Hurdle for Tom Lacey. He holds entries in the Ballymore over two and a half and the Albert Bartlett over three miles. Stamina certainly seems to be his forte, judged on his battling success over Mint Condition and Make Me A Believer at Warwick.
Johnson rode the promising novice Annual Invictus into fourth place in the valuable Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Chris Gordon’s gelding was making his handicap debut after back-to-back victories at Plumpton and he was running on strongly at the finish. He holds an ambitious entry in the Ballymore but could be a lively contender for one of the big festival handicaps.
Another potential handicap ride for Johnson could be Whatmore, trained by Henry Daly. Johnson rode him into second place behind course specialist Regal Encore in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot in October. Whatmore followed up with a good run behind veteran Yorkhill at Newcastle.
He finished fourth to Imperial Aura at last year’s festival and would be an interesting entry in a race like the Ultima Handicap Chase. Johnson will be hoping to pick up a few spare rides during the Cheltenham Festival and there will be plenty of trainers looking to call upon his vast experience.