Ballyoptic backed by Johnson

Richard Johnson says "there wouldn't have been much in it" had Ballyoptic not fallen at the last flight of the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.

Unowhatimeanharry (right) clears the last flight in company with Ballyoptic, at which point Ballyoptic departed from the contest.

Having helped cut out a serious pace in front, Ballyoptic looked to be tiring in the fog approaching the final flight but was still just about in front coming to the final flight, when stumbling on landing and coming down, effectively handing the race to Unowhatimeanharry.

The winner now heads the betting for the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham at 5/2 with Sky Bet, but Johnson, who was partnering Ballyoptic for the first time, said he believed the ante-post betting may not be paying sufficient respect to his mount, who can be supported at 12/1 with the same firm.

"He just lost his back legs," said Johnson in his Betway blog. "It's a little hard to understand exactly why, but these things happen and all I can say is that he ran a great race.

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"He jumped and travelled really well, and coming to the last he wasn't stopping. We were a little bit up on Unowhatimeanharry at the time of falling and I don't think there would have been much between us at the line.

"I'm not saying we would have gone on to win, but I really don't think there would have been much in it. Ballyoptic will probably now go for the Cleeve Hurdle and then the World Hurdle and I think he'll have really strong claims. Harry Fry's horse is of course the one we still have to beat."

Johnson also admitted to disappointment at the news that Coneygree, who he would in all likelihood have ridden at Kempton in the ongoing absence of Nico de Boinville, would miss the 32Red King George VI Chase.

"Obviously Colin Tizzard now holds a very strong hand in the King George and he must be an extremely short price to train the winner again," he said.

"Cue Card is the proven horse and you know that he's going to jump and stay. But I've said before that I think Thistlecrack is the best racehorse in training, and if his jumping holds up in the King George then he'll be very hard to beat. Kempton's flat track will definitely suit him too.

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"Unfortunately Coneygree has been ruled out, which is also a bit disappointing for me. It was great to see him run well on his reappearance after a long time off the track and the yard will know if he's right or not.

"If he's not 100 per cent, then you really cannot throw him into a race like the King George. Once he does return to his best, then he'll be very hard to beat. I know the Gold Cup is the ultimate aim for Sara and Mark Bradstock so fingers crossed he'll be spot-on for that."

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