Four-time Champion Jockey Richard Johnson gives Tote his ten for the Festival Mini Game. Will you be backing his selections? Start building your stables today and edit them any time until 10pm March 15th.
You’d have to say Shishkin is the one for the Arkle. He couldn’t have taken to fences any better and, on all known form, he’s got to be very hard to beat. It’s an obvious choice but he does look very, very good. He jumps, he travels and it’s just very hard to pick any holes in him. Allmankind will probably go off at a good gallop and, if anything, that will really suit Shishkin. Without question, he’s the best horse in the race.
You can make a case for quite a few in the Champion Hurdle but Honeysuckle is hard to knock. She’s a previous winner at Cheltenham having landed the Mares’ Hurdle last year and, looking at her last run when she won the Irish Champion Hurdle, she’s almost improved again. It’s definitely not going to be a slow-run race as there’s plenty of pace in there and she stays further. You just can’t get away from Honeysuckle. She keeps winning and that’s all you can ask for – she never lets you down.
Chacun Pour Soi
Defi Du Seuil was in my original Tote Ten To Follow for the season and it’s very disappointing he won’t be there in the Champion Chase. With his absence Chacun Pour Soi ticks all the right boxes. He’s done nothing wrong this season and he jumped and travelled really well when winning at Leopardstown. Willie Mullins always trains his horses to peak at this time of year and, at the moment, it’s very hard to go against him.
Monkfish is the one to beat in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase but I think Sporting John could definitely put up a very good performance. He’s unexposed and is a horse who is getting better with each run. I rode him to win the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time out when we came home really strongly. That suggests he’ll only improve for going up to three miles. He’s come out of the race really well and there’s no reason why he won’t be suited by Cheltenham.
I’m looking forward to riding Thyme Hill in the Stayers’ Hurdle. There’s very little between him and Paisley Park – it’s one each between them this season. Thyme Hill copes with all conditions so the drying ground could help as Paisley Park is such a strong stayer. The conditions certainly won’t be a negative for us and I’m hoping we can get our revenge from Ascot. We didn’t get much luck in running from the last bend in the Albert Bartlett at last year’s Festival. I’m not saying it definitely cost me the race but it certainly cost me a good chance and we were only beaten a couple of lengths. It would be nice to set the record straight at this year’s Festival.
Kim Bailey’s horses are in fantastic form going into the Festival and I think Imperial Aura could be the one for the Ryanair Chase. He won the novices’ handicap chase at last year’s Festival. Those sort of horses often come back and run really well in the graded races and he could still be the improving horse of the race. In all these championship races you need to stay the trip very well and he’s got the stamina to stand him in good stead. He’s going the right way and I feel he’s got the right profile for the race.
He’s 11-years-old now and all the stats will tell you he can’t win the Gold Cup for a second time but I think Native River has got a fantastic chance. He wasn’t that far behind Al Boum Photo two years ago. That was the year after he won the Gold Cup and he definitely didn’t quite have the same spark about him. I thought his performance in the Cotswold Chase at Sandown the other day was one of his career best runs. I was delighted with the way he won and it certainly didn’t feel like he was feeling his age. Obviously, we would be prefer the ground to be testing but he loves Cheltenham and he’s a fantastic jumper. I think he’s got a great chance of winning back the Gold Cup.
It depends on what the handicapper does to his mark for winning the Betfair Hurdle as to whether he goes for the County Hurdle but if he runs in that rather than the Supreme I would really fancy him. There’s a very strong chance he could end up being a graded horse. He’s a definite improver and we went a proper gallop all the way at Newbury. The way he pricked his ears at the last having jumped and travelled showed he had more left.
He’s obviously a dual Festival winner and he ticks all the right boxes for the Marsh Novices’ Chase. I’ve been impressed with his jumping, he makes a lovely shape over a fence. Even when he was jumping hurdles, his mannerisms and the way he looked suggested he would be a chaser. I’m sure he’s many people’s idea of an Irish banker and rightly so. From a jockey’s point of view you would love to ride him.
He was great when beating Tiger Roll by 17 lengths in last year’s Cross Country Chase and he looks the best horse in this year’s race on that form. He’s still a young horse and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s improved since last year. In France, a little bit like in Ireland, they have a lot of these cross country races so he’s experienced over all sorts of obstacles. This race is level weights so it suits him and he’s definitely a horse you would want to ride.