With just seven weeks until the Cheltenham Festival, four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson faces a race to be fit for horse racing’s plum meeting after suffering a fractured arm.
Johnson was riding Westend Story at Exeter on Tuesday when he was unceremoniously dumped from his mount, landing awkwardly, before being trampled on by Fox Pro. After landing heavily on his arm he stayed down on the turf for a while, and after treatment from the on-course doctor the 42-year-old was subsequently taken to A&E for an x-ray.
It had looked quite possible that he has suffered a bone fracture given the nature of his landing, and with a lengthy lay-off for such an injury it is a real likelihood that Johnson would miss the Cheltenham Festival and several other key rides in the coming weeks.
The clerk of the course at Exeter, Daniel Cooper, confirmed:
“Richard was sent to Exeter General Hospital in an ambulance. He walked into it and is just going for further assessment.
“He’s holding his forearm so is going to get that x-rayed. At this stage he’s showing pain in his arm, I’ve asked a doctor for a statement but they won’t be more specific than that.”
The bad news was confirmed by trainer of Westend Story, Philip Hobbs later that day, he said:
“He has broken his right arm between the elbow and the hand and he’s going to have it plated either tomorrow or Thursday.”
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Generally, the timeframe for a fractured arm – assuming that is what Johnson has suffered – is two months on the sidelines, with the Professional Jockeys’ Association suggesting 62 days is the average length of time out.
That would leave some rather interesting horses without their regular companion. Brewin’upastorm, a 12/1 ante post chance for the Arkle, has won his last two starts with Johnson on board, with the pair also joining forces for a decent turn in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle (second) and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (fourth).
Thyme Hill, 5/1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and 10/1 for the Ballymore equivalent, is a young horse that has benefitted from Johnson’s experienced handling.
Together, they have won three Class 1 outings on the bounce, including an eye-catching triumph at Cheltenham back in November.
And how about the veteran, Native River? A former Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National winner, the nine-year-old is always game under Johnson’s guidance, and a significant win over the likes of Might Bite and Black Corton last time out suggests there is still some desire left in the tank.
Others, including the improving Thomas Derby, will probably have to find a new handler from now until the spring.
Meanwhile, there are implications for Johnson’s hopes of regaining his champion jockey crown too if the injury is a serious one.
He started Tuesday just three winners shy of current leader Brian Hughes, who himself bagged a hat-trick at Newcastle on Monday.
Johnson had some well-fancied horses at Exeter, including Westend Story ironically, and the chance to close the gap on the resting Hughes has now gone.
The betting market has acted accordingly, with the market suspended now that Hughes – already an 8/13 favourite on Monday night – has a clear run at the title.