Richard Johnson lands Warwick hat-trick to go five points clear of Harry Skelton
CHAMPION jockey Richard Johnson was again the man in the spotlight at Warwick on Thursday, landing a treble to chalk up his 90 winner of the season and go five clear of Harry Skelton in the title race, writes David Hucker.
It was at the course’s opening meeting of the season last week that Johnson had hit the milestone of 3,500 career wins in Great Britain and Ireland and, in what is very much a purple patch for the champ, went past Skelton to head the table for the first time at Newton Abbot on Monday when scoring on Olly Murphy’s Motueka.
Wilmcote-based Murphy was again the provider, as Johnson struck on his first ride of the afternoon when General Custard took the opening Wee Maggie Dixte 50th Birthday "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle to make it four wins in the last fortnight for the stable, which is operating at a 31 per cent strike rate.
General Custard was pulled up by Johnson on his last run at the course in March, but put his best foot forward this time, leading at the last flight down the back straight to beat Topofthecotswolds, placed yet again, by five lengths.
Johnson’s other two winners were saddled by Welsh trainer Tim Vaughan, the first coming in the following Penguin Pay Maiden Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs with Trixster, who was returning from a 173-day break, running on well to beat favourite Pontresina.
The second was in the Ignite Incentives Handicap Hurdle when Canton Prince led well before the penultimate flight to beat Voodoo Doll, whose cause wasn’t helped by a mistake at the last.
Course ambassador Dan Skelton saddled Desirable Court to walk over with Bridget Andrews in the UBS Beginners' Chase after the other two intended runners were scratched from the race because of unsuitable ground.
It so nearly became a void race, however, as owner Craig Buckingham had threatened to quit racing after another of his horses Magic Pulse, trained by David Griffiths, had been withdrawn at the start by mistake for a valuable event at Nottingham the day before.
Skelton had posted on Twitter in the evening "I've spent 20 mins on the phone to Craig Buckingham placating him and getting him in the frame of mind to run two of his horses tomorrow." Thankfully, for all concerned, the owner took his advice and emerged with the easiest winner of the day.
The ground was officially good, good to firm in places, and clerk of the course Jane Hedley had confirmed before racing that ground staff had applied 60-80mm of water since the previous meeting and there was a good covering of grass the whole way round the track.
“But, the home straight is so well drained now that, as soon as the sun comes out and the wind starts blowing, the moisture just goes out of it” she added.
Highlight of the afternoon was the Class 3 Colliers International Rating Services Handicap Chase over two and a half miles, in which course and distance winner Templehills topped the weights for Cotswold trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
With three non-runners, including likely market rival Chirico Vallis, he went off an 8-11 favourite and made all the running, overcoming a less than fluent jump at the last fence to carry 12-2 to victory over Rear Admiral.
Soiesauvage won from a handicap mark of 86 at Uttoxeter a year ago and returned to the course to record her second victory off an effective rating of 102 last month. She looked well-in at the weights for the concluding ROA/Racing Post Owners’ Jackpot Mares Handicap Hurdle and punters seemed to agree, making her the 13-8 market leader.
Hoponandsee had just come to take the lead when making a mistake at the penultimate flight and was passed before the last by top-weight Shufoog and Soiesauvage.
Despite hanging left on the run-in, it was the 8-1 outsider Shufoog, for whom good ground is essential, who came out on top under Brendan Powell to score by a length and a half.