Richard Johnson: currently leads the title race by four winners
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
By Tony McFadden 11:57AM 2 AUG 2016
CHAMPION jockey Richard Johnson is enjoying a well-earned rest as jump racing in Britain was on Monday put on hold for ten days, but he knows he is facing a battle to retain his title when the action resumes.
Johnson, who finished more than 100 winners clear of his nearest pursuer in 2015-16, is a general 2-5 shot with bookmakers to win the title for the second time, but he is only four ahead of nearest challenger Sam Twiston-Davies – a 9-4 chance – who has made a flying start to the season.
Twiston-Davies has notched 41 winners so far this season, compared to the 25 he had at the corresponding stage last year. Johnson, by contrast, had 63 winners on the board at this point last year but has registered 18 fewer this time.
“I haven’t made as good a start as last season, but it’s nice to get back in front again,” Johnson said after doubling his lead at Market Rasen on Sunday. “It’s not going to be easy as Sam has the backing of his father [Nigel] and Paul Nicholls, but we’ll keep trying.”
Aidan Coleman, who finished runner-up to Johnson last season, is within nine of the lead and is also in contention according to the champion, who added: “I expect it will be good for racing if there is a battle between myself, Sam and Aidan but I’d rather they both drop away and let me win it!”
Johnson’s slower start to the season certainly hasn’t been for the want of trying. He has had 261 rides so far – just five fewer than at the same stage last year – and no other jockey has had more than 185 rides.
2016 45 wins from 261 rides (17% strike-rate)
At this stage in 2015 63 wins from 266 rides (24%)
Overview Work-rate and sheer number of rides should see him prevail even if he fails to repeat last year’s remarkable tally
2016 41 wins from 178 rides (23%)
At this stage in 2015 25 wins from 118 rides (21%)
Overview Can rely on support from powerful yards, notably champion trainer Paul Nicholls, but up against a formidable rival
2016 36 wins from 181 rides (20%)
At this stage in 2015 37 wins from 159 rides (23%)
Overview Stock continues to rise but is unlikely to have the firepower to overhaul Johnson
But while Johnson’s strike-rate has fallen, Twiston-Davies’s has soared. He is operating at an impressive 23 per cent, which is the best among the realistic title challengers, and has also been busier than last season, riding 178 horses compared to 118.
Twiston-Davies declared there will be no let-up in his work-rate as he chases a first title. He said: “The season has gone really well so far. I’m lucky enough to be riding for Richard Newland again, and Paul Nicholls’ and Nige’s [Twiston-Davies] horses have been running well, so it’s been good.
“I’ll certainly be giving it my best shot and I hope I’ll still be in there with a chance towards the end of the season, but Richard is a great rider and a tough man to beat.”
Coleman and Twiston-Davies both racked up 741 rides over the course of last season but Johnson amassed an incredible 1,044 and bookmakers feel the sheer number of extra opportunities will see the champion prevail.
Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: “Sam is doing really well to be keeping up with Richard’s pace but we think that gradually, as the season kicks into gear with the better animals coming out, the differential in number of rides will really start to make a difference with Richard smoothly easing away just as he did last time.”