Racing: Johnson adamant that Rooster can rule

Richard Johnson is a man talking a good fight after his exhilarating victory on Florida Pearl at Leopardstown on Sunday. His next major assignment is on board Rooster Booster when he shoulders top weight in what promises to be the handicap hurdle of the season, Saturday's Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury. Johnson is not fazed by the weighty task facing the Champion Hurdle winner: "There will be no excuses," the jockey ventured yesterday.

No excuses will be required if Rooster Booster fails to concede weight all round to what looks certain to be a maximum field of 26 rivals, many of whom have been prepared especially for this £125,000 prize. Unlike Baracouda's weight-carrying task at Sandown on Saturday, these are fit, in-form rivals queuing up to take on the champ.

The difficulty of the task is emphasised by the betting on the race: 6-1 the field, with Rooster Booster having been eased by the sponsor from 11-2 when the weights were published, to 13-2 now.

"Rooster Booster is in great form," Johnson added. He's got a lot of weight but he's used to that. He's suited by a big, competitive race. Hopefully that's what we'll get on Saturday. In that sort of race, with a lot of runners and plenty wanting to be handy, it's going to be fast-run and that's going to suit us. But it is hard to give weight away to some other Champion Hurdle horses."

In that category comes Sporazene, from the Paul Nicholls camp. "He's in really good order," Nicholls said yesterday. "Obviously he met Rooster Booster at levels in the Christmas Hurdle and wasn't beaten too far. He gets a nice weight [15lb] from him, but there are plenty getting weight from him. It's a very competitive race."

Nicholls will also be giving Azertyuiop his final prep for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Newbury on Saturday. Last season's Arkle Chase winner is one of three entries by the Shepton Mallet trainer for the Queen Mother Memorial Fund Game Spirit Chase. "I have Azertyuiop, Kadarann and Armaturk. It's an ideal race for Azertyuiop. He gets only a half-penalty as his Grade One win was in a novice last year," the trainer said.

"Kadarann won the race last year and is in good form. Armaturk has gone up 10lb for winning the other day and he might pick up a bit of place money."

TOTE GOLD TROPHY (Newbury, Saturday):

Tote: 6-1 Limerick Boy, Sporazene, 13-2 Rooster Booster, 11-1 Hasty Prince, Perouse, 12-1 Georges Girl, 14-1 Rigmarole, Tom Paddington, 16-1 Geos, 20-1 Never, Risky Reef, Saintsaire, 25-1 Demi Beau, Self Defense, 28-1 Benbyas, Contraband, Monkerhostin, Sud Bleu, 33-1 others. Ladbrokes: 6-1 Rooster Booster, Sporazene, 8-1 Limerick Boy, 9-1 Hasty Prince, Perouse, 10-1 Georges Girl, 14-1 Geos, Rigmarole, Tom Paddington, 16-1 others. Coral: 6-1 Sporazene, 7-1 Rooster Booster, Limerick Boy, 10-1 Georges Girl, Rigmarole, Hasty Prince, Perouse, 14-1 Geos, Tom Paddington, 16-1 others. William Hill: 6-1 Rooster Booster, Sporazene, 8-1 Limerick Boy, Perouse, 9-1 Hasty Prince, 12-1 Georges Girl, Rigmarole, 14-1 Geos, Saintsaire, Tom Paddington, 16-1 others.

* The jockey Michael Rowland has died from head injuries received in a fall at Turfway Park, Kentucky, when his mount, World Trade, fell at the first turn. Rowland, 41, rode almost 4,000 winners in a 25-year career.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Pharpost

(Market Rasen 4.40)

NB: Trabolgan

(Market Rasen 3.10)

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