Tote ambassador Richard Johnson picks his Tote Ten to Follow for the 2020/2021 National Hunt season.
I'm delighted to have teamed up with the Tote which is such as integral part of British racing and I'm extremely proud to have the logo on my breeches. It’s exciting to be working with the Tote team as they rejuvenate pool betting which is such a crucial part of the sport’s future. Well, my first job as an ambassador is to pick my Tote Ten to Follow for the season, so here goes…
Defi Du Seuil
He had such a good season last campaign ahead of a slight blip at the Cheltenham Festival where he just didn’t fire for whatever reason. He seems in great form at home and I've schooled him a fair bit. The plan at this stage is to start off back at Cheltenham for the Shloer Chase and hopefully he can reappear in the form that saw him win that race 12 months ago.
The plan had been to start off at Wetherby on Saturday, but we decided to hold fire and wait for the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury. He was just touched off by a trio of very talented Irish raiders in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham last March despite being so inexperienced over hurdles. That was only his fourth start over hurdles, and he remains the most exciting of prospects - I cannot wait to get started on him.
Another really exciting lightly-raced one for Philip (Hobbs) who lost his unbeaten record at Cheltenham behind Envoi Allen. He is another one who has done plenty of schooling at home and he will start off over fences very soon. We always felt that was where he was going to be seen in his best and everything achieved over hurdles last season was just a bonus. He seems in great form at home and is another one to look forward to this season.
It is very hard to put together one of these lists and not include a horse like Shishkin. He was brilliant when winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last year and looks set to embark on a chasing career this term. Nicky Henderson has such a good record converting these top-class hurdlers into chasers and it is clear to see why he is already ante-post favourite for the Arkle Chase without jumping a fence in public!
Made a really impressive jumping debut at Down Royal last Friday and looks the real deal. He was the talking horse at last year's festival and didn't disappoint. He didn't put a foot wrong on his chasing debut and will surely go to the very top over fences as well. He looks a must for any list.
Despite being beaten on his seasonal reappearance, last year’s Supreme Novices’ runner-up looks to be a lively Champion hurdle contender. I thought he jumped really well at Down Royal on Friday despite getting beaten and just look to get a little tired later on. He is bound to improve bundles for that run and will surely head to Cheltenham again taking a few decent prizes on the way.
I couldn't leave the horse who gave me one of my greatest days in racing off the list. Native River was being aimed at last year’s Grand National before injuring himself. He is back in training again now and is reportedly in good shape. I presume the plan will be to head to Aintree again and he continues to operate at the highest level. Don’t forget he’s unbeaten in two starts since finishing fourth to Al Boum Photo in the 2019 Gold Cup.
He was one of the beaten horses in a terrific finish to last season’s RSA chase at Cheltenham. He just appeared to get out-stayed by Champ and Minella Indo having looked the most likely winner turning for home. He looks the ideal type for a race like the Ryanair Chase and I'm sure Willie Mullins will have a campaign mapped out for him to take in some prizes on their way back to the Festival .
I finished second on him in a Supreme Novices’ a few years ago and then he never really fired when switching to fences last season. However, he bounced back to form under a big weight when switched to hurdles and still has a bright future ahead of him. We obviously lost the remainder of the jumps season so hopefully he can make up for lost time over hurdles.
My final entry is somewhat of a darker horse named Everglow who was beaten on his reappearance at Chepstow last week. He is a horse I really like and he promised plenty in bumpers last term. I know he will pick up some races this season and is better than he showed last time.