Richard Johnson: Captain Fantastic


Leading jockey Richard Johnson last night hailed Captain Chris as his best chance of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup for 14 years.

The rider, who is second in the all-time list to AP McCoy, says Philip Hobbs’ stable star is in the form of his life as he prepares to tackle Jump racing’s blue riband on Friday.

Johnson, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Star Sunday, said:

“Captain Chris has so much natural ability. He was sixth in the Gold Cup last year when the Philip Hobbs stable was not really firing. But his win at Ascot last month was very impressive.

“I have always thought he is one of the best I have ever ridden and he would be my best chance of winning the Gold Cup since I won it in 2000 on Looks Like Trouble.”

Captain Chris is something of a modern-day Desert Orchid as he is much better racing on right-hand tracks such as Ascot and Kempton.

He has a habit of jumping out to the right on left-hand courses, losing vital ground at each fence. If the Gold Cup was at Ascot, Captain Chris would probably start as favourite but Johnson is still bullish about his chances.

Johnson, known as “Dickie”, added: “He had a muscle problem when he was younger which has left with this habit of jumping to the right. But he still won the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham in 2010 and has a decent record around the track.”

In the absence of the brilliant Sprinter Sacre, Johnson also has high hopes in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday on the veteran Wishfull Thinking, who looks overpriced at 33-1.

He said: “If Sprinter Sacre was running then he would have scared away half the field. To win the Champion Chase you need to be a proper two-and-a-half mile horse and Wishfull Thinking is definitely that. He was third last year and put up a great performance at Cheltenham in January. He ticks a lot of boxes.”

The classy Menorah is another strong ride in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday.

“He is in great form although has not run since the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day where he ran well for a long way before getting tired.

“He has a strong chance but would ideally want good ground. He also comes alive in the spring.” Johnson describes Balthazar King as a “fantastic” horse and he will have a huge chance if he runs in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Wednesday. But he will only race if the ground dries out.

He will also get the leg-up on some exciting younger animals, notably Champagne West, who has multiple entries but will probably go for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Friday.

He also thinks Garde La Victoire could be a strong contender for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday if the ground is not too soft and Cheltenian is another with a good chance in Friday’s County Hurdle.

Another plum ride is the ex-French horse Le Rocher in Friday’s JCB Triumph Hurdle. He is unbeaten in two runs on heavy ground in the UK but Johnson hopes he will be just as effective on better ground.

And there is also Reve De Sivola in the World Hurdle, with whom Johnson has struck up a great relationship.

Soft ground would boost his chance.

But the rider reckons his best chance of a winner over the four days of the Festival will be on Thursday when he rides Fingal Bay in the Pertemps Hurdle Final.

He said: “He will have top weight but he is a Grade One winner. It should also be a compressed handicap so he should not have to give away too much weight.”

Source: Daily Star, 9 March 2014

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