IF anyone had said to me this time last year I would win my third title and a Cheltenham Gold Cup I’d have bitten their hand off.
Then to cap it all to be given an OBE in the New Years’ honours list was just incredible. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
Life is good! Now the challenge is to make 2019 better. One way to do that is always to set yourself new goals and, for me, one of those will be to win my first Grand National.
I’ve come close a few times. In 2002 I was so close on What’s Up Boys and then in 2014 I was second again on Balthazar King.
The National is the race everyone knows and talks about, it’s the people’s race.
I hope to have a good ride in it this year and, of course, it would be lovely to win it. It’s the plan for Rock The Kasbah at the moment.
He stays well, jumps well and goes well fresh, so he ticks all the boxes. If we can get him there fit and well he will have a strong chance.
Mind you there is plenty of racing to be done before Aintree in April and, touch wood, I would hope to have a fourth title in the bag by then.
For me, the jockeys’ championship is still the biggest thing. Winning it again is what drives me on day after day. In the evening after racing I am already thinking about my rides the next day.
It’s hard going, especially when you try to balance work with family — but all I can say to my wife Fiona is I’m doing my best!
Of course, she understands. Her father is Noel Chance so she is racing through and through.
As for this year’s championship I must admit I started to feel the heat earlier in the season when Harry Skelton was in the clear.
Of course I knew he would make a fast start — thanks his brother Dan he always does — but I didn’t expect him to build up such a big lead so quick.
I woke up one morning and took a look at the standings and all of a sudden he was 20 or so ahead so I knew I had to start getting my act together.
Things have certainly clicked into place though and, as we go into today’s racing I am on 156 winners with Harry on 130 and Brian Hughes in third on 105.
It looks a nice lead but you never take anything for granted in this game. Everytime you go out there — whether it be at Plumpton or Cheltenham — you are risking injury so you need lady luck on your side at all times.
Thankfully I can count on the support of some tremendous trainers, guys like Gordon Elliott, Olly Murphy, Colin Tizzard, Warren Greatrex and, of course, the gaffer Philip Hobbs.
The big thing for me last year was winning the title despite the fact Philip’s horses were quiet.
Thankfully things are different now and it’s great to see Philip banging in the winners. Touch wood the string is in great form and all of them are running their races.
With the start of the new year all roads point to Cheltenham. Before we know where we are it will be March 12 and the first race at the Festival with that roar as the tapes go up.
Just the thought of that moment is enough to get the old spine tingling. I hope to have some nice rides there with the biggest of them all, of course, being Native River in the Gold Cup.
First of all let me say he owes us nothing. He has given us so many big days and one of the best of my entire career so anything he does now is a bonus.
Winning a Gold Cup is the pinnacle for every jockey. It doesn’t get any better — unless you can win it again I guess!
We were really pleased with Native River at Kempton and we all know Cheltenham will definitely suit him better.
I’m sure the Tizzards will want to get another run into him beforehand and the obvious race looks the Denman Chase which he’s won for the last two years.
He’s just a very good horse who has been there and done it. I wouldn’t swap him for anything else in the Gold Cup. When they are crying enough you just know he will be digging even deeper.
Another horse I can’t wait to ride at Cheltenham is Lalor. We’re hoping to run him in the Lightning at Doncaster at the end of the month if the ground is suitable.
His form from Cheltenham is very good and even though he got beat at Sandown the form has stood up.
I’m really looking forward to riding him in the Arkle, his credentials are as good as anything else in the race. Brewin’Upastorm is another for your Cheltenham shortlist.
He is very talented. The Challow at Newbury was slowly run which didn’t suit him. The fast pace of a Cheltenham novice hurdle will be right up his street.
And make sure you keep an eye on Springtown Lake for one of the big Cheltenham handicaps.
We didn’t see the best of him at Kempton over Christmas but he is now on a mark of 142 so he could be one for the novice handicap chases on the first day.
On his two previous starts he’d go there with a live chance. Another horse I love is La Bague Au Roi. She is a brilliant mare but I’m not sure you will be seeing her at Cheltenham.
A lot of people think the season revolves around the Festival but, don’t forget, only 28 horses can win there and the track doesn’t suit a lot of horses.
La Bague Au Roi could fall into that category. She couldn’t have done any more than she has so far, it was a great performance at Kempton.
The next main target is the Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown next month and it will take a good horse to give her 7lb. We’ll go to Aintree after that.
Finally, there’s a few of us old guys doing well in the saddle. I’m 41, while the likes of Barry Geraghty, Ruby Walsh and Davy Russell are only a couple of lengths behind me on the run-in.
It seems everyone is always asking when we are packing up! Well, I can’t speak for the rest of the lads but I love what I do and I’ve no intention of stopping any time soon.
I’m living the dream.
Richard Johnson OBE is an ambassador for leading online betting company Betway. Play Betway’s free racing prediction game every day for a £1,000 prize and up to £10,000 on ITV racing days.