Champion jockey Richard Johnson lit up a damp and gloomy Warwick on Wednesday with a sparkling four-timer to move 33 winners ahead of nearest rival Brian Hughes and close in on a second title, writes David Hucker.
Johnson, whose partnership with Somerset-based trainer Philip Hobbs is one of the longest in racing, finished runner-up to Sir Anthony McCoy on no less than 16 occasions but, with the multiple champion retiring, deservedly took the jockeys’ crown in 2016.
His total of 235 winners has only been bettered by McCoy himself, so a repeat this year was always going to be a tough challenge. Although not so prolific this time, Johnson looks to have a second title in the bag and he notched his 164th success of the campaign on former Irish point-to-point winner Robbin’Hannon in the opening Executive Hire Show Maiden Hurdle
With the morning rain having got into the ground, the two miles and five furlongs trip proved tiring work for the ten runners but, having gone to the front after the first flight, Robbin’Hannon jumped like an old hand on his racecourse debut and was always holding Fortified Bay, who ran on well after struggling to go the pace down the back straight
Multiculture was a red-hot favourite to follow up his Wincanton win in the following GES Novices’ Hurdle over two miles and, although Fulgus kept him company in the early part of the race, he had no more than a canter round to score in the well-known yellow and black colours of Terry Warner and make it a double for the champion and trainer Hobbs.
Just three faced the starter in the richest race of the day, the £8,000 JCB Stephen Allday Perpetual Plate Steeplechase and Johnson was on the favourite Krackatoa King for his neighbour Kerry Lee. Second in the market was Towering, who had run with promise on his chasing debut at Doncaster, only to disappoint when pulled up at Taunton, and he ran another lifeless race here, failing to complete again.
Jumping to the front seven fences out, Krackatoa King went further and further way, coming home a long way clear of Timon’s Tara for the easiest success of the afternoon.
Seven set out in the pouring rain in the MHM Handicap Hurdle over three and a quarter miles and it was the bottom-weight The Model County who took the field along under Tom Scudamore. With three of the runners failing to finish, the only challenge came from Young Lou, who chased the leader into the straight, but couldn’t close the gap over the final two flights.
Despite making a mistake at the last, The Model County had enough in hand to score by three lengths and record back-to-back wins at the course.
The umbrellas were up again as the runners covered the two miles and five furlongs of the Ricoh Arena Mares’ Handicap Hurdle, with Spellbound and the Johnson-ridden Sparkling River going head-to-head from the off. Course winner Sparkling River was always jumping just the better of the two and she forged clear after the third-last flight for a convincing success to make it four on a day to remember for Johnson.
At three miles and five furlongs, the Executive Hire News Handicap Chase was the longest race of the afternoon and, with the rain having given way to blue skies and sunshine, it took 25-1 shot The Last Bridge a full eight and a half minutes to cover the trip and beat the only other finisher Veauce De Sivola, giving jockey Jamie Moore his 39th winner of the season.