Richard Johnson celebrated being acknowledged in the New Year Honours list with a winner at Newbury as I’m A Game Changer claimed the Betway Head Your Hunch Handicap Hurdle.
The three-times champion jockey, who has been awarded an OBE, had to be at his strongest to get the Philip Hobbs-trained six-year-old home by a nose from the fast finishing Knight In Dubai in the extended two-and-a-half-mile prize.
Johnson said of the 13-2 winner: “I would have taken a dead-heat at the time. I knew it was very close, but my head was obviously down at the right time. It is nice he has got his head in front as he ran some nice races over the last 12 months without winning.
On his OBE, Johnson added: “It is a massive privilege to receive an honour like that and it is a privilege to be mentioned in the same breath as some of those that have been nominated.
“I knew about a month ago about it, but you never expect anything like that to come through the post. It is very special to have that recognition from the Royal family.”
Nicky Henderson faces a juggling act keeping apart what appears to be a talented bunch of novices after Champagne Platinum initiated a brace for the Seven Barrows handler, jockey Barry Geraghty and owner JP McManus in the Betway “Introductory” Hurdle.
The four-year-old was cut to 14-1 for the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival by Paddy Power after running out a four-and-a-half-length winner of the extended two-mile contest.
Henderson said of the evens favourite: “He will be very good. He galloped away from them and they went a good gallop. I’ve not been very hard on him yet. He learnt a lot at Newcastle. I’ve not thought about where we go. We might keep it low.”
There was further glory for winning connections later on the card as Champ landed the Betway Challow Novices’ Hurdle.
An entry in the Randox Health Grand National is likely to be on the agenda for Carole’s Destrier after the 10-year-old gained his first win since December 2015 when prevailing by three-quarters of a length in the Betway Mandarin Handicap Chase.
Trainer Neil Mulholland said of the 12-1 winner: “He ran well at Chepstow and we were very happy with the run. The ground at Sandown last time was just too soft.
“Maybe now he has won, he will sneak in the bottom of the Grand National as he is that type of horse.”
Having landed her first Grade One at Ascot last Saturday with Paisley Park in the JLT Hurdle, trainer Emma Lavelle was among the winners again after De Rasher Counter (10-1) enjoyed a change of fortune when obliging by a neck in the Betway Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Lavelle’s husband Barry Fenton said: “Apart from his first run this year, nothing has gone right for him. He just lost his confidence and it has been a case of nursing him back.
“He is a nice horse for the future and he could be a really nice staying chaser down the line.”
Noel Williams had more than one reason to celebrate the three-and-a-quarter-length success secured by Another Crick (2-1) in the Betway Chase.
Williams said: “Another Crick has been a revelation since jumping fences. I was always dying to get him over fences, but I’ve just had to be patient.
“This is my first winner for David Sewell (owner), so that is a bit of a monkey off my back.”