Thursday 14 December 2017

Flu bug forces Johnson to take a break

Richard Johnson atop Native River wins the Welsh National. Photo: Edward Whitaker
Richard Johnson atop Native River wins the Welsh National. Photo: Edward Whitaker

Thomas Kelly

Richard Johnson will be out of action until tomorrow at the earliest, as he continues to recover from the illness that forced him to miss his ride on Native River at Newbury on Saturday.

Johnson steered both Multiculture and Rolling Maul to third place in the opening two races at the Berkshire circuit, but gave up the ride on Colin Tizzard's Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National hero because he was feeling unwell.

Tizzard said afterwards: "I walked out with Dickie (Johnson) and he said he would love to ride him, but just felt he couldn't do the horse justice. He had this flu and he felt terrible."

The champion jockey watched on from the sidelines as Native River firmed up his claims for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup with an assured victory under substitute jockey Aidan Coleman. Johnson did not take up any of his subsequent mounts.

He had four rides booked at Exeter yesterday and was also due to ride at both Catterick and Plumpton today.

Finian's Oscar predictably outclassed his rivals in the Free Bet At 188Bet Novices' Hurdle at Exeter.

Snapped up for £250,000 by Alan and Ann Potts after winning his only start in the Irish point-to-point field, the five-year-old made an impressive debut for Colin Tizzard at Hereford, before graduating to Grade One level with honours after producing a sparkling display in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

Already ante-post favourite for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, Finian's Oscar had extremely prohibitive odds to complete his hat-trick in this Listed contest as the 1/16 favourite.

It was fairly plain sailing for Tom O'Brien's mount, with the handsome gelding initially tracking Taws before taking over the running in the back straight.

While the rest faltered, with Whatmore running out and smashing through the wings of one hurdle, Taws did his best to keep tabs on Finian's Oscar rounding the home turn.

However, Tizzard's ace had too much and safely negotiated the remaining obstacles to prevail by four-and-a-half lengths.

"That hasn't told us anything and I'm still in the dark as to whether he will run in the Neptune or the Supreme. I really don't know which one," said Tizzard.

"That was only his third hurdle race and it shows his well-being, nothing more. He's a very relaxed horse, as we saw today, but we haven't really gained anything."

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