Richard Johnson – A True Champion
“When you get home this evening and look in the mirror, you will see a Champion”. That was phrase used by 20-time Champion Jockey, Sir Anthony McCoy, when the news broke of his great rivals’ retirement. Richard Johnson was runner up 16 times to AP before finally being crowned Champion Jockey in 2016. AP McCoy is undoubtedly a legend of the game and arguably the greatest jockey to grace the sport. Champions push each other to the limit and AP & Richard certainly did just that! With McCoy out the picture, Johnson powered to success for 4 consecutive seasons, winning 791 races. Richard Johnson hangs up his boots and will sit alongside the likes of Walsh, Geraghty and McCoy as true greats of the game.
Leaving school at 16, Richard wasted no time at all in setting about climbing the jockey ranks and was duly crowd Champion Conditional in the 1995/96 season aged just 18. The following season he recorded over 100 winners for the first time a milestone he successfully continued. In the early stages of his career, he struck up a successful partnership with David Nicholson and the pair combined for his first Grade 1 success in the Heineken Gold Cup aboard Billygoat Gruff. This would be the first of many graded race triumphs in a career totalling 3745 jumps winners.
Richard Johnson holds the record for the most appearances in Aintree’s Grand National but unfortunately never won the gruelling Liverpool showpiece. He did, however, have rich success at The Cheltenham Festival landing jump racings most coveted crown, The Cheltenham Gold Cup, on two occasions. Looks Like Trouble landed Dickie his first Gold Cup back in 2000 before Native River prevailed under a classic Johnson ride in 2016 against the enigmatic Might Bite. Recency bias may be playing a part but boy did that ride on Native River sum up Richard Johnson as a jockey. The pair were poetry in motion that day and Richard was aggressive from the outset. It was a classic do or die ride and both he and Native River were relentless. The classic Johnson drive came into effect coming down the Cheltenham hill, and despite seemingly going far worse than De Boinville and Might Bite, Johnson and Native River refused to be beaten. The pair pinged the last two and Johnson drove him home in what I am sure will become a battle for the ages.
Champion Chase success aboard the warrior that was Flagship Uberalles came in 2002 before Richard guided Rooster Booster to an effortless success in the 2003 Champion Hurdle. For all this was a masterful ride and one of real ease and composure, I will always remember Richard Johnson for those driving finishes. A driving finish which arguable burst onto the scene in the 1999 Stayers Hurdle aboard Anzum. Seemingly beaten at the last, Anzum stormed up the Cheltenham Hill under a powerful Johnson drive to chin Le Choudray and win at 40/1. That Dickie Johnson drive up the Cheltenham hill really did become a thing you had to see. Balthazar King won the cross country twice for Richard and on both occasions the pair scrapped every single inch of the run in, to win by no more than a head in both 2012 and 2014. From a personal point of view, one of my great memories on course was seeing Dickie team up with The New One for a front running special in the International at Cheltenham back in 2016. Seeing two Cheltenham stall warts power up the hill on a gloomy day in December, will stay with me for a very long time.
Richard Johnsons talent and success as a jockey speaks for itself. His reputation as gentleman is also one of the very highest order. Since he announced his retirement, the racing world and all the influential figures within it, could not speak more highly of both him as a jockey but also as a man. Fellow jockeys in the weighing room have been quick to congratulate him on a spectacular career but one thing they won’t miss is seeing Richard Johnson in full flight in a tight finish against them!
On behalf of the team at OLPT, I would like to wish Richard a happy retirement and good luck in any future endeavours.
By Sam Rideout
Follow me on Twitter – @TheTr17pleP