Johnson to make up for lost time


HOWARD JOHNSON can kick-start his season at Newcastle today when he has good prospects of a hat-trick. His stable is one of the strongest in the north of England but has been in the doldrums in the early months of the jumps campaign.

The situation wasn't helped by Johnson himself being put out of action when he was kicked by a cow in the summer and the yard only got off the mark for the term when Tom Brodie took a handicap hurdle at Kelso a fortnight ago.

But that gelding broke the stable's duck in good style, looking the winner a long way from home, and should follow up in the Barbour Billy Bow Handicap Hurdle.

Tom Brodie had appeared very much in need of the outing beforehand at Kelso and tired noticeably as lack of peak fitness told late on. He will be spot on today and can defy a 4lb rise in the weights.

Reappearing stable-companion Aly Daley can initiate a double for Johnson and jockey Norman Williamson in the preceding Barbour Durham Handicap Chase. The eight-year-old improved throughout last season and ended the campaign a fair chaser, having won three of his last five starts.

Thunderstruck looks a good bet to complete the hat-trick in the closing WK Backhouse Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase. He'd almost certainly have scored on his reappearance at Sedgefield last month but for a bad mistake at the sixth-last fence which caused him to tire dramatically in the latter stages and lose the lead close home.

Plumpton's feature Jolly Tanners At Staplefield Handicap Chase can go to Zambezi Spirit who created a highly favourable impression when he trotted up over course and distance last month.