A week of slimming paid off in style for Dickie Johnson!
After a small pre-Christmas break last week (to pick up a new retired greyhound for our pack) I’m back in the swing of things today with the next instalment of ‘What we learned from the weekend’.
Cheltenham’s December meeting was it’s usual competitive and tricky self, highlighted in no small part by the record £91,774.50 placepot payout on the Friday, but as always there was plenty for us to take from the meeting (as well as the other meetings over the weekend) so lets crack on in with the next chapter of ‘What we learned from the weekend’…
What we learned from the weekend: 12th & 13th December…
1. When Richard Johnson decides to eat like an X-Factor judge to make the weight we need to take serious notice…
It’s obvious now but Richard Johnson slimming down to the minimum weight (10 stone) for his ride on Village Vic should of had us all scrambling to scoop up any price we could get our grubby paws on.
On Saturday the champion jockey in waiting Richard Johnson was riding at 10 stone for only the tenth time in the past two years and he clearly wasn’t doing that for the good of his health! (the good of his wallet maybe but not the good of his health!).
On those ten occasions he has returned form figures of 2P20201211. Knock out the runners that started at 9-1 or bigger and it improves to 22201211.
The three winners have all come this season and goes to show just how determined he is to land his first jockeys championship. Indeed if we look back at the two previous years (2012 & 2013) he only slimmed to 10 stone of four occasions (returning figures of 232P, the P coming on a 16-1 shot).
Quite simply if Johnson is missing more meals than usual then we need to take note. He’s not doing it regularly, he’s only doing it when he thinks he has a serious chance of collecting the spoils and this year he wants to leave no stone unturned in his quest for the prize that has been kept from him on 16 agonizing occasions; the Champion Jockey crown.
I doubt this will be the last time Johnson trims himself to the bare minimum and I would be shocked if he doesn’t add to his 10 stone seasonal figures of 201211 before the season is out.
If Johnson is slimming then we can be winning! Keep your eyes open…
2. Old Guard fired in his third career best effort on the trot to put himself bang in the Champion Hurdle picture…
The most improved horse in training? Quite possibly.
The 4yo had a somewhat unremarkable juvenile season but since his summer-break he has improved almost beyond recognition, winning all three starts, all at Cheltenham, on varying ground conditions, in races run at varying tempo’s, in different field sizes, on the old AND new tracks and has put in an improved run on each occasion.
He will clearly need to improve again but that looks almost a given based on what we’ve seen so far and his trainer Paul Nicholls has firmly stated that all roads now lead to Cheltenham in March. And who can blame him.
But there are a couple of sticking points…
For starters he will be a five-year old come March and it’s no secret that the youngsters have struggled to capture this race in recent times. Since 1997 57 have tried and only ONE has managed to land the spoils (Katchit in 2008). A further 10 have placed but the bare facts are that it’s a tough job for a 5yo to capture the Champion Hurdle crown. Before Katchit it was See You Then in 1985, before that it was Night Nurse in 1976 and before that it was Persian War in 1968. And what was special about that three? They were all multiple winners. That gives a clear indication of how special a 5yo you need to be to land the big pot as a youngster.
Is Old Guard up to the same level as those great champions? At this stage you would have to say no, it’s unlikely. Granted Katchit wasn’t up to their level either but with all due respect to the loveable little terrier he did rock up in a weak year and in a race that was devoid of any real superstar. Sizing Europe was the potential superstar (at that stage) and if we are all being truthful he would most likely have romped home with the race had he not gone wrong/lost his action after jumping two out (taking nothing away from little Katchit though).
Secondly we have to go back to Rooster Booster to find the last horse to do the International/Champion Hurdle double. Before that you are looking at the Bula & Comedy Of Errors era for horses doing the International/Champion Hurdle double. For whatever reason it’s a damn tricky double to land.
Thirdly he is a Dosage weak horse (less than 8 points in his Dosage Profile) and only one winner in the past 15 has fitted that profile. For me that would be another slight negative.
Visually he has been nothing if not fantastically impressive this term but there are questions mark over his suitability for the Champion Hurdle in March. I’m far from ruling him out of the equation, as I’m actually a big fan of his and think there is a huge amount to like about him, but those question marks above do temper my enthusiasm ever so slightly…
Old Guard is improving at a rate of knots but is he really a Champion Hurdle player?
3. The rouge that is Gevrey Chambertin can still do the business when he has his conditions…
He may not have reached the heights once expected of him but when he gets his conditions he can still most certainly do a job.
On Saturday he definitely had his conditions and he sauntered home as he liked in a class 3 handicap at Lingfield.
That win takes his record at Class 3 level and below to 116711111 (he is ‘only’ 1/11 at higher levels) and he basically dominates lesser horses at these lower levels, it’s horses of similar or higher ability where he really seems to struggle, regardless of other conditions.
He was also dropped significantly in trip for this run, down from 24f+ to 19.5f, and he now has a record of 141111P1 over 16f – 20.5f trips. He does stay up to 23.5f but with six of his eight career wins coming over shorter he does seem happier when there is less emphasis on his stamina reserves.
He also seems to enjoy the December – January period as he is now 4 from 4 when running during the deep winter months.
But why am I telling you this?
Well I’m not sure he’s done with yet. He won this from OR 136 which is the same mark he currently holds over fences.
Will they try and capture another winter pot over fences with him but this time over the larger obstacles?
It would make sense to me, especially if they stick the blinkers back on, blinkers that had a great effect on him last December at Newbury over fences.
If they can find a Class 3 handicap over fences for him before the end of January I would certainly be interested in him. He’s not reached the top level like he was expected to in his early days but he’s still a horse that you can profit from when he meets with the correct conditions.
Keep an look out for any suitable entries for GC before the end of next month, you could pick up some tasty profits.
Cheers and happy punting, it’s almost Christmas!
(which means it’s almost King George time, I’m not talking about the other crap!)
Stats sourced from the excellent Proform Database