Richard Johnson suffers title blow as defending champion breaks arm at Exeter

Richard Johnson's hopes of a fifth UK jumps jockeys' championship were left in tatters on Tuesday after he broke his arm when unseating at Exeter.

The defending champion was trampled on by another horse after being unseated from Westend Story in the four-runner 2m3f novice chase.

However, Johnson is determined to be back for the Cheltenham Festival, according to Westend Story’s trainer Philip Hobbs, who said: "He's very positive and said he'll definitely be back for Cheltenham, no problem.

"He's broken his right arm between the elbow and the hand and he's going to have it plated either tomorrow or Thursday."

Johnson, who was treated by doctors on the track before being taken to Exeter General Hospital, has been involved in a fierce battle for the jumps jockeys’ title with Brian Hughes. He began yesterday three winners behind his rival, who rode a treble at Newcastle on Monday to put him on 114 for the season, but Johnson would have been hoping to capitalise on a day off for Hughes on Tuesday.

Hobbs added: "It's obviously going to be more than a month before he is riding again.

"Hopefully it all goes well and it shouldn’t be too complicated, but I suppose his championship aspirations are likely gone. At the same time it would be worse if it happened in six weeks' time rather than now."

Despite his determination to be back for Cheltenham, Johnson still faces a race against time, with the festival 49 days away and the Professional Jockeys' Association's website stating the average length of time out after suffering a forearm fracture is 62 days.

However, the former Turf Club senior medical officer Adrian McGoldrick believes Johnson has every chance of winning that race.

He said: "Six weeks would certainly be the norm for a general fractured forearm, which would see him back before the Cheltenham festival.

"With the bone plated, in six to eight weeks it will certainly be healed. The odds are very high that he will be back for Cheltenham.

"Once he has it plated, in theory he could get back on a horse the following morning. The risk would be if he falls and it upsets the plate, as you stabalise the bone once you've got a plate on it."

Hughes is 28 wins ahead of third-placed Sam Twiston-Davies and all major bookmakers have now suspended betting on the title race.

Hobbs said Tom O'Brien and Michael Nolan would take over the majority of Johnson's rides.

Three of the best waiting for the champion jockey at the Cheltenham Festival

(Racing Post Arkle/Marsh Novices' Chase)

One of the Olly Murphy-trained rising stars who Johnson partnered into fourth in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at last year's festival, and he has also been aboard for the seven-year-old's two wins over fences this season at Carlisle and Taunton which have put him in the frame for Grade 1 honours.

Thyme Hill
(Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle/Ballymore Novices' Hurdle)

The 5-1 favourite for the Albert Bartlett on the back of his impressive record of three out of three over hurdles since finishing third to Envoi Allen in the Champion Bumper at last year's festival. Two Grade 2 wins were topped last time by his Grade 1 victory in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury, pushing him into festival favouritism.

Native River
(Magners Gold Cup)

His 2018 Gold Cup-winning partner, a 14-1 chance this year, got back to winning ways with Johnson in no uncertain fashion in the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on December 7. Fitted with blinkers for the first time, he set off in front and won unchallenged. He is being kept relatively fresh for a repeat bid at Cheltenham having finished fourth to Al Boum Photo last year.