The jump racing season’s summer break is over - and Richard Johnson is resuming what is widely expected to be another unstoppable march to the Champion Jockey title.
No prizes are handed out in August and April is still some way off, but Richard Johnson is leading the way again with 51 winners, although Harry Skelton is not far behind on 48. Aidan Coleman is third on 39 and Sam Twiston-Davies fourth on 36.
For Johnson, a third successive crown would be further reward for his long and persistent career in the saddle, having spent over 20 years as perennial runner-up behind Tony McCoy until the Ulsterman retired.
Having finally won the title in 2016 after 16 second places in 20 years, Johnson enjoyed plenty of publicity, with the fanfare including McCoy being on hand to present the trophy. It represented a classic sporting tale of reward for persistence.
Now, however, the best sporting analogy for Johnson might be a footballing one: Manchester United waited 26 years to be champions, but after winning the 1993 title, they went on to dominate for many years. Another Johnson victory this year might seem rather like that, with the pending power a huge football club has analogous to the resources the reigning champion jockey has, not least his tally of rides.
With racing back under way, it is notable that Johnson has now had 229 rides so far this season, compared with 149 for Skelton. This means that Johnson leads having only won 22 per cent of races, compared with Skelton's 32.
Skelton himself highlighted this problem in a recent interview with the Racing Post on his championship hopes, he commented: "I’m realistic. Dicky had nearly 500 rides more than me last season and had 189 winners. I've done my maths and had a look but think it’s nigh-on impossible.
"It's nice to be in touch and you never know, but it’s very unlikely it will be happening this season."
Of course, it could be that Skelton is laying down a marker for next season, ready to take the step up. He is convinced that he can get there one day, with the help of his brother and trainer Dan.
"It's my ambition to be champion jockey one day and Dan’s ambition to be champion trainer. Hopefully we’ll get there," he added.
Over the next few days, most of the racing around the country will be on the flat, but there are jump meetings coming up at Market Rasen, Perth and Southwell this weekend, followed by racing at locations such as Lingfield, Worcester and Cartmel.
For fans who might be thinking of booking corporate hospitality for the big racing events of 2018, such as the Cheltenham Festival or Epsom, the climax to the season may seem a long way off. But it is over the next few months that Richard Johnson should prove himself once again the best of the bunch. With even his biggest rival all but conceding the title, it seems only injury could stop him.
Image: Getty, from Keith Prowse subscription