Twiston-Davies turns to Johnson for Ballyoptic spare

Ballyoptic: was due to be ridden by Ryan Hatch at Ascot

PICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos) Twiston-Davies turns to Johnson again for spare
By Jon Lees 6:07PM 14 DEC 2016

CHAMPION jump jockey Richard Johnson is set to lead Nigel Twiston-Davies's challenge for another big hurdles prize this weekend after being approached to ride Ballyoptic.

Fresh from steering The New One to victory in the International Hurdle last Saturday, Johnson is the trainer's first choice to replace the injured Ryan Hatch, who suffered multiple fractures in a spill at Cheltenham last Friday, in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

Johnson said: "I'm very lucky to pick up the ride and Ryan Hatch's bad luck has been my luck. It's good to hear he's doing well and nice to get the ride.

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"Looking at the Newbury race, you'd think he has to improve to beat Harry Fry's horse, but Nigel's horses are in great form and Ascot's a staying track – it's a stiff three miles there and Ballyoptic is a strong stayer. I've won the race four times, but would like another."

Johnson guided The New One to an all the way win at Cheltenham, tactics which he could also be asked to employ on Ballyoptic.

Ballyoptic won his first four starts for the stable, including the Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree but the sequence was halted when the fell at Wetherby in October. He started favourite for the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last month but was comfortably seen off by Unowhatimeanharry, who will reoppose on Saturday.

Twiston-Davies said: "We are going to try different tactics and ensure Ballyoptic is much handier away. We always thought he was getting a bit slow now so we'll use more forcing tactics."

Unowhatimeanharry is 11-8 favourite with Coral and Betway, while Ballyoptic is an 8-1 chance with William Hill.

Asked if Ballyoptic's Newbury performance might have flattered Unowhatimeanharry, Twiston-Davies said: "I've no idea. I am hoping that's what we will be saying but it's doubtful. If we take Unowhatimeanharry out Ballyoptic ran a superb race. On form we have no chance of beating him but we're going to try something different."

He added: "Jamie Bargary is going to Haydock so I think Dickie Johnson is riding him."

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