Richard Johnson Profile
|Born||Jul 21, 1977|
Jockey who once dated royalty has come out of AP McCoy's shadow to thrive as National Hunt racing's star.
The ultra-reliable Richard Johnson is the second-most successful jockey in jump racing history.
Consistency and stamina are two attributes that punters look for in racehorses and Johnson also has these characteristics in abundance.
The fact that Johnson first won the National Hunt jockeys' championship at the age of 38 is testament to his character, perseverance and a decades-long battle with AP McCoy.
Johnson was first crowned champion jockey in 2016 but by that point had picked up wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Champion Hurdle, making him one of the most popular and reliable jockeys on the circuit.
He won a second Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018 at the ripe old age of 40, showing there was plenty left in the tank for the jockey whose first win came in 1994 on Rusty Bridge at Hereford.
Johnson has been champion jumps jockey four times, ridden more than 3,000 winners and has amassed north of £34million in prize money.
David Nicholson takes Johnson under his wing
It was not unexpected that Johnson would be talented in the saddle given mum Sue trained racehorses and his father Keith had won the 1982 Midlands Grand National as a jockey.
Johnson got his taste for speed on his pony Tasty, galloping around his family farm as a child. He tried dressage but found it too pedestrian and became set on a career as a jockey after spending the summer, when aged 14, with trainer David Nicholson.
He left school at the age of 16 to work for 'The Duke', learning the job of jockey from the ground up.
Nicholson was known as being hard but fair and Johnson did not escape a telling off, even when recording his first win in the aptly-named Next Generation Hunters' Chase on Rusty Bridge at Hereford on April 30, 1994. Johnson's mount drifted across the track on the run-in and Nicholson made sure the young jockey would not repeat the mistake. "He made me ride out with my stick in my left hand for the next few weeks to teach me a lesson. He had his way and that was the right way," Johnson told Racing TV.
Johnson was crowned champion conditional jockey in 1995/96 after making a solid start to his career with 53 winners that season. He had to wait a further three years, however, to tackle major prizes as he did when winning the Martell Cup at Aintree on Escartefigue in April 1998 for Nicholson.
That was merely a warm up for the 1999 Cheltenham Festival where Johnson sprang a 40/1 upset win on Anzum in the Grade One Bonusprint Stayers' Hurdle. "Here comes Anzum with a devastating run," cried the commentator as Johnson appeared from nowhere to show it isn't over til it's over by pipping Le Coudray on the line.
"That was my first big winner on that sort of stage and to do so for David Nicholson at Cheltenham was amazing," Johnson told the Racing Post. "You need a little bit of luck and things definitely fell into place for me then. He helped me progress to the next level."
However, when Nicholson retired in 1999, Johnson was on the hunt for a new trainer connection and he found it in Somerset with Philip Hobbs.
Philip Hobbs and winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup
The year 2000 was an important one for Johnson, as he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and became stable jockey for the talented Hobbs.
Johnson produced the Noel Chance-trained Looks Like Trouble to win the Gold Cup by a resounding five lengths.
Chance also offered Johnson the ride on the classy Flagship Uberalles in the 2000 Tingle Creek at Cheltenham with the pair prevailing before the horse was sent to Hobbs to train. Johnson got up in the 2002 Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Flagship Uberalles by three lengths from Native Upmanship.
Yet, Hobbs wasn't to be outdone and he had a superstar grey hurdler in his stable called Rooster Booster that would take on all-comers. In the famous yellow and black checked silks of Terry Warner, Rooster Booster would take home the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap at Cheltenham in 2002.
Roosters aren't known for their flying skills but Johnson had the opposition in a flap in the 2003 Champion Hurdle, winning by a clear 11 lengths from Westender.
It was apt that the modest Johnson racked up his 1,000th career win in the lowly Claydon Horse Exercisers Maiden Hurdle at Stratford in April 2003 aboard Quedex.
The mid-to-late 2000s saw Johnson claim significant victories on various classy Hobbs-trained horses. He won a Rendlesham and the Coral Cup aboard Monkerhostin in 2004, a Triumph Hurdle on Made In Japan the same year, a Betfred Gold Cup on Lacdoudal in 2006 and then the William Hill Gold Cup on Planet Of Sound in December 2009, among various others.
Later that month, Johnson notched his 2,000th career win with victory on Fighting Chance at Newbury. He had become only the second jockey to pass the 2,000 mark, with the first being his old adversary AP McCoy.
The rivalry with AP McCoy
Despite riding more than 100 winners in every season since 1996/97, the jumps jockeys' title eluded Johnson, entirely because of one man - the machine, AP McCoy.
Johnson had finished second in 16 of McCoy's 20 years of domination in this field.
Not that it stopped Johnson picking up big race wins, as he did in the 2011 Irish Independent Arkle, on Captain Chris. In April 2011 Johnson won the Scottish Grand National aboard Beshabar for Tim Vaughan. Then, like his father before him, he took the Betfred Midlands Grand National on Goulanes in 2014 for Martin Pipe, ensuring the valuable winners kept coming.
In truth, however, it was only AP McCoy's retirement in April 2015 which gave Johnson a shot at finally taking the National Hunt jockeys' title. 2016 proved a renaissance for Johnson. With his adversary retired, he registered his 3,000th career win aboard the Hobbs-trained St Saviour in January at Ludlow.
By April 2016, Johnson had been crowned champion jumps' jockey for the first time. He drew plaudits from across the industry, including his old rival McCoy.
"He is someone who made me achieve what I achieved for so long and I think it's thoroughly deserved for his great work and his hard work and dedication for the last 20-odd years," McCoy told BBC Sport. "I think it shows perseverance can always come good in the end."
Winning the Gold Cup with Native River
After winning his first jump jockeys' title at the age of 38, some might have expected Johnson to wind down his career in the perilous National Hunt game. Yet, Johnson was only getting started and he had won the title a further three times by 2018/19.
In November 2016, Johnson gave racing a glimpse of what was to come by guiding Native River to victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury for Dorset trainer Colin Tizzard.
Johnson then wore the yellow, red and purple Brocade Racing silks to victory in the 2016 Coral Welsh Grand National on Native River, a staying chaser with a growing reputation.
Despite these wins, Johnson's victory in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup on Native River was still a huge achievement, beating Nicky Henderson's well-fancied Might Bite by four and a half lengths.
Far from looking to retirement, Johnson, aged 40, had won the most prestigious jumps event in racing.
Now he looks set to push for 4,000 career winners before he puts his feet up.
On February 6, 2021, Johnson and Native River warmed up for another crack at the Cheltenham Gold Cup with victory in the Virgin Bet Cotswold Chase at Sandown. The 13/2 shot hosed up by nine and half lengths from Bristol De Mai.
Few would bet against Johnson winning a third Gold Cup for he is a jockey that just keeps going and going. If you want a winner, you put Richard Johnson on your horse.
Frustration at the Grand National
Johnson may have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice but he has never won the Grand National, despite riding in it 21 times, a record for most runs without success in the Aintree showpiece.
Johnson has come agonisingly short, finishing second on two occasions - in 2002 aboard What's Up Boys and then in 2014 on Balthazar King.
"That last 100 yards was probably the worst I've ever ridden in really," Johnson wrote on the Betway Blog of his ride on What's Up Boys. His horse led coming past the elbow on the run-in but was caught on the line by Bindaree.
On other occasions Johnson had suffered bad luck in running with his horses falling, refusing and being brought down.
"It doesn't matter where you go, people know what the Grand National is, so to win it would be a dream come true," he added.
Richard Johnson's personal life
Johnson's grandfather Ivor bred his first winner, Rusty Bridge, while his mother Sue trained the horse.
His father Keith was a keen jockey, winning the 1982 Midlands Grand National on Bridge Ash.
Johnson was in a relationship with the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips for five years, receiving much press interest before the couple split in 2003.
He has since married Fiona Chance, daughter of trainer Noel Chance for whom he rode Looks Like Trouble to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Together they have three children, Willow, Casper and Percy.
Looks Like Trouble, the winner of the 2000 Gold Cup, lives with the Johnson family as a pet.
Johnson was awarded the OBE for services to racing in the 2019 New Year Honours' List.
Richard Johnson News
- Apr 05, 2021
- Mar 15, 2021