Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson Following the retirement of Sir Anthony McCoy in April, 2015, Richard Johnson finally emerged from the shadow of the perennial champion jockey to claim the leading jockey title for himself in 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18. Johnson is also the fifth most successful jockey in the history of the Cheltenham Festival – behind Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty, McCoy and Pat Taafe – with 22 winners.

His first success at what has become known as the ‘Olympics of horse racing’ came aboard Anzum, trained by David Nicholson, in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1999, but Johnson wasted little time in completing his set of the championship races that headline each of the four days. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Looks Like Trouble, trained by Noel Chance, in 2000, the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles, trained by Philip Hobbs, in 2002 and the Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster, also trained by Hobbs, in 2003.

After riding at least one winner at five successive Cheltenham Festivals, Johnson finally drew a blank in 2005. He managed just one winner in 2006 and 2007 and was, again, winnerless in 2008 and 2009, before winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Menorah and the Centenary Novices’ Chase on Copper Bleu, both trained by Philip Hobbs, in 2010.

Although finding Festival winners harder to come by in recent years, Johnson has also won the Arkle Challenge Trophy, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, the Pertemps Network Final and the Triumph Hurdle on Hobbs-trained horses. In 2017, he also won the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on Flying Tiger, trained by Nick Williams and, in 2018, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, for the second time, on Native River, trained by Colin Tizzard. After the latter success, Johnson said, “I’m speechless. He’s been a fantastic horse for me and I was lucky to pick up the ride on him.”

Tom George

Tom George Tom George started training in 1993 and, in two-and-a-half decades since, has saddled over 700 winners and transformed his traditional, family home at Down Farm in Slad, near Stroud, Gloucestershire into an up-to-the-minute training establishment. By his own admission, George prefers a patient approach, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. His philosophy appears to be paying dividends because, in 2016/17, he enjoyed his most successful season ever, financially, surpassing £1 million in prize money for the first time and, in 2017/18, fell only just short of that mark.

Indeed, of the ten Grade One winners that George has saddled during his 25-year career, three of them came in 2017/18. Of course, two of those wins were provided by the same horse, Summerville Boy, who beat Kalashnikov in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, before confirming the form in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle to give George only his second winner at the Cheltenham Festival.

George deliberately avoided a clash between Summerville Boy and his other highly promising novice hurdler, Black Op, who also runs in the colours of high-profile owner Roger Brookhouse. Consequently, Black Op ran in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, rather than the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and finished a highly creditable second, beaten just 2¾ lengths, behind odds-on favourite Samcro.

Black Op was, in fact, attempting to follow in the footsteps of the only previous Cheltenham Festival winner for the yard, Galileo, who won the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – at the time, run as the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle – in 2002. Galileo, a Polish-bred gelding – not to be confused with the 2001 Derby winner of the same name – failed to progress after promising start to his racing career but, with two Grade One-winning novice hurdlers in his yard, along with plenty more ammunition, it’s probably safe to say that George will be enjoying further success at the Festival before long.

Rooster Booster

Rooster Booster Owned by Terry Warner, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson, was a popular grey, who won the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2002, but is probably best remembered for his impressive, 11-length victory in the Champion Hurdle in 2003.

Originally in the charge of Dorset permit holder Richard Mitchell, Rooster Booster won a maiden hurdle at Taunton on his third start over obstacles in January, 2000. He was subsequently sold to Terry Warner for £60,000 and transferred to Philip Hobbs but, despite a series of valiant placed efforts – including in top handicaps, such as the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury and the Sunderlands Imperial Cup at Sandown – he failed to add to his winning tally on his first 14 starts for his new trainer.

Despite being an eight-year-old with just a single win to his name, and making his first appearance at the Cheltenham Festival, Rooster Booster was sent off 8/1 third favourite for the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle in 2002. Held up early, he made good headway with half a mile to run and, having taken a slight lead at the final flight, was ridden out to beat The Gatherer by 1¼ lengths.

Rooster Booster was subsequently beaten, but far from disgraced, when fourth of 14, beaten 4½ lengths, behind Coral Cup winner Ilnamar in the Martell Aintree Hurdle on his final start of the season. However, over the winter Rooster Booster underwent what can only be described as an ‘epiphany’ because, as a nine-year-old, he won his first four starts of the 2002/03 season, including the Grade Two Victor Chandler Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Consequently, on March 3, 2000, Rooster Booster lined up as 9/2 second favourite – in a field that included reigning champion Hors La Loi III, and the likes of Rhinestone Cowboy and Intersky Falcon – but market confidence was not misplaced. In fact, far from it; he quickened clear approaching the last and sauntered up the run-in, easily brushing aside his nearest pursuer, Westender, to record the defining performance of his career.