Racing: Monkerhostin can block the Johnson juggernaut

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The Independent Online

David Johnson chose his racing colours as the reverse of the blue and green livery which besported the horses owned by the late Robert Sangster. The results, though, have followed sweetly the lines of the former champion owner on the Flat.

David Johnson chose his racing colours as the reverse of the blue and green livery which besported the horses owned by the late Robert Sangster. The results, though, have followed sweetly the lines of the former champion owner on the Flat.

Johnson too has become a champion, in the realm of National Hunt racing, and this year promises to be the greatest campaign of them all. Already tucked away are the Paddy Power and Hennessy Gold Cups, via Celestial Gold, while yesterday another considerable force signalled his return when Therealbandit scooped Cheltenham's feature race.

The unreal run could continue today as Johnson is represented in the bonusprint.com Gold Cup at Prestbury Park by the favourite in Our Vic. It is an ugly title for a race which began life as the Massey Ferguson and was less grating even as the Tripleprint, but it should nevertheless be a contest pleasing on the eye.

Our Vic has not raced since losing his aura of invincibility in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The Martin Pipe-trained gelding will have to move much faster than he did that day as he now steps down to 2m 5f. "We know he goes left-handed so Cheltenham will suit and I wouldn't be worried about dropping back in trip either," Johnson said, "but it looks a great race and there's a lot of good horses in there. Our Vic would probably be the freshest though, and you certainly can't say he has been overraced."

There are no certainties in this race. Even Arkle managed to manufacture defeat in 1964, though he was carrying 12st 10lb (including 3lb for winning the Hennessy seven days earlier), when third to Flying Wild and Buona Notte.

Indeed, proof of the competitive nature of the race comes in the record of the market leader. In 35 runnings, just nine favourites or joint favourites have won, the last Addington Boy in 1996. It is not an auspicious tally.

Even so, this is not a theatre of the absurd. The biggest rumble was in 1978 when a 20-1 shot in The Snipe was successful. Otherwise, 28 of the winners have returned single-figure odds. It is a substantial historical crutch on which to lean while examining the qualifications of one of the form horses.

Monkerhostin (nap 2.40) is quietly fancied by his trainer, Philip Hobbs, and certainly has prospects of reversing Paddy Power form with Thisthatandtother, when they finished second and third, sandwiched between Celestial Gold and Ollie Magern. As those last-named went on to fight out the finish of the Hennessy, the form looks of titanium strength. Monkerhostin and Thisthatandtother should now finish closer together, so close that theirs is a must forecast, while the former must be favoured because of his more exciting price.

Hobbs saddles the much decorated Rooster Booster in the Bula Hurdle, a race he won two years ago before stepping on to the top plinth of the podium in the Champion Hurdle. The problem for the grey here, advancing age notwithstanding, is that there appears to be no pace in the race, a fact which will plunges him into an immediate disadvantage.

More nimble contestants might steal the Grade Two. The Irish horse, Back In Front, is one of the nippy, and beats another domestic guard, Inglis Drever, on a line through Harchibald. The unusual winner, however, should be Westender (next best 3.15), unusual in that he is a quality horse trained by Pipe who seems to have slipped general attention.

There are compelling athletics too tomorrow, most locally at Navan, where two of Ireland's superheroes swoop in to fight the good fight in the Tara Hurdle. The Champion Hurdler is on hand, but the betting does not reflect that the laurels will be going to Hardy Eustace.

Dessie Hughes's gelding is returning from a period in dry dock and, on the forecast soft ground, he will find it hard to peg back the mare, the admirable Solerina.

In Hong Kong, at Sha Tin, they stage the small matter of four Group One races, as the global Flat season goes out with a great clash of cymbals, literally and metaphorically. There are some old British and Irish warriors in here just waiting to hang up their rifles and speculation on their condition might be a rash act.

Michael Jarvis's Rakti has gone a little bonkers since his arrival in the Orient, while Antonius Pius, of the Ballydoyle academy, was crackers before he set off. Perhaps the one true superhorse is the local Silent Witness, who should further claims in the 5f race that he is the best sprinter in the world.

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