Johnson: Roll on Cheltenham rematch

Four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson was one of those left in awe at the epic running of the SBK Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

Johnson, who retired in April last year, could only admire the efforts of all involved – from Shishkin and Energumene themselves to the connections of the four runners who made it possible and were rewarded with a race that will live long in the memory.

Like everyone else, Johnson is now looking forward to the rematch in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March.

“There was a fair bit of pressure for both the leading horses and it was great to see it was a proper race,” he said.

“I think it makes everybody more excited for Cheltenham because, hopefully, the British have a hope of having a live contender to try to beat the Irish. It showed it is going to be a fascinating Champion Chase.

“Cheltenham is a different track and I actually think it is a stiffer test of stamina. They obviously went very fast yesterday.

“They were going a hard gallop and when you are going that last two furlongs up the hill, that is when Altior really kicked in and Shishkin showed yesterday after the second-last, when Nico (de Boinville) asked for everything, that last furlong was decisive. I think Cheltenham would suit Shishkin.

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“I’m sure Willie (Mullins) is not that concerned. The official handicapper had them 1lb different and the official handicapper got it right on the day. One bad mistake could swing it either way at Cheltenham, so both horses will need to be on their top game.

“It was really good – the public loved it, everyone loved it. It was a great thing to watch and also it gives you the appetite for seven weeks’ time.”

Johnson won virtually all there was to win in his days in the saddle, also finishing runner-up in the jockeys’ championship a remarkable 17 times.

He added: “You can’t help miss those days and if Nico couldn’t be at Cheltenham, I would come out of retirement for that one!

“Those good horses are few and far between and when you have them, you appreciate them. It was a big day for Nicky (Henderson), Nico and Willie and Paul (Townend) as well. They were bringing him over for the first time – although he won a point-to-point in England – but probably for them it was quite nice to see him run so well on British soil, because not all horses travel across the sea.

“For racing and for British racing, it was great to see yesterday. I think, if you didn’t enjoy watching that yesterday, I think you are probably watching the wrong sport.”

Trainer Milton Harris – who is responsible for leading Triumph Hurdle contender Knight Salute – was another full of admiration for what he witnessed.

“People get carried away, because the moment is now, whereas Arkle and the like was a different time. You cannot compare like for like,” he said.

“I thought it was a real great race to watch. Without discrediting Nico, I thought Paul Townend, the rider of the second, gave him a perfect ride. He did nothing wrong. Even going down to the last, four or five strides before the last, he saw a stride, squeezed and he has gone for it.

“Whereas the winner, probably, nothing has gone quite right. He stumbled, half-missed one a bit. From a betting point of view, one is 4-6 (for Cheltenham) and the other is 3-1 – I’d rather back the second at 3-1, because I suspect it will be a mistake or something again, won’t it?

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the second beat him, because the margins of error are so fine. I would not surprised me to see a different result at Cheltenham and if I was betting, I would be betting the second at 3-1 at the prices. I thought it was a pleasure to watch and thought that Paul Townend gave him the best ride he could possibly have done. It was great for the game, we need these good horses.”

Joe Tizzard will take over the at his father Colin’s yard later in the year, and he hailed the “fantastic” clash.

He said: “I though it was fantastic. I thought it was a great performance from both of them. Obviously Shishkin dug real deep and it was just a fantastic clash. It was brilliant for racing and if everything is right with the horses, I don’t think anyone is afraid to take each other on. That is just the way it is.

“”The second horse lost nothing in defeat and he looked very impressive everywhere, Nico’s reaction just summed up what a fantastic race is was – he said it was one of the best he has ever ridden in.

“There wasn’t too much between them yesterday and there certainly won’t be too much in it again. I haven’t got to make the choice of which one I would ride, thankfully… but I know I wouldn’t mind either horse in our yard, that’s for certain!”

Source : Sky Sports