McCoy salutes 'brilliant' Johnson

Richard Johnson has spent his career in the shadow of Tony McCoy, but the perennial champion was keen to proclaim his rival as an underrated force as he became just the second jump jockey to pass the 2,000-winner mark.

Johnson has finished runner-up to McCoy in the title race for 11 of the last 12 seasons and it was appropriate that McCoy was aboard second-placed Wheels Up as the landmark victory came through Fighting Chance in the Powersolve Electronics Greatwood Charity Handicap Chase at Newbury.

No-one in racing appears to dislike Herefordshire-born Johnson, not least the most prolific National Hunt pilot in history.

McCoy said: “It’s a fantastic achievement and he is someone who never gets anywhere near the credit he deserves.

“He is a brilliant bloke and a brilliant jockey.”

Johnson, 32, claimed his first winner on Rusty Bridge in a hunter chase at Hereford on April 30, 1994 and it was pleasing for him to combine with his old friend Richard Lee.

Lee trained 4-1 favourite Fighting Chance, who was also Johnson’s 100th winner of the campaign.

Johnson, who later in the day doubled up aboard Duke Of Lucca, said: “It’s just lovely to get to this mark and I’m just very lucky really.

“I think AP (McCoy) was just being nice to me not coming by me up the straight.”

While most of his rides these days come for Philip Hobbs, there have been many other influences on his life.

He continued: “I went to David Nicholson when I was still at school and he offered me a job.

“It was a brilliant education in every way, how to ride horses and how to behave.

“Adrian Maguire was there at the time, as well as Warren Marston and Choc (Robert) Thornton.

“David Nicholson looked after me. The first couple of Festivals when Adrian was injured, he didn’t put me in at the deep end on the really fancied runners.

“I was probably angry at the time but in hindsight it was good for me.

“He gave me some good rides but someone else might have put me on the horses in the really big races and I might not have been able to cope.”

Johnson landed the 1999 Stayers’ Hurdle on Nicholson’s Anzum and was to enjoy many top-level winners including on Noel Chance’s Looks Like Trouble in the 2000 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Flagship Uberalles in the Queen Mother Champion Chase two years later and the 2003 Champion Hurdle on the Hobbs-trained Rooster Booster.

“I joined Philip after Richard Dunwoody was forced to retire, which left him without a jockey, so it all snowballed from there really,” said Johnson.

“Philip has always been there for me and to have him on your side is priceless.

“I have to say a massive thanks to my agent Dave Roberts. He does it seven days a week, 52 weeks a year and I wouldn’t swap him for the world.

“If I rode until I was 50 I’d always have the same agent.”

He harbours no evident bitterness towards McCoy, who received considerable acclaim when reaching 3,000 winners at Plumpton early in the year.

He said: “AP shows no signs of stopping and I’ll keep trying to get in front of him.

“Obviously it’s frustrating but we’re all trying to be champion and he’s the one to get to. He’s a very good friend and fantastic to ride against.

“We all want to win and you have to make sure you are at 110% fitness all of the time to keep pushing.”

When he finally hangs up his boots, Johnson plans to take over the family farm, but there is no time-scale at the moment.

“It depends if I get the mortgage paid, and how expensive my daughter is!” he said.

“Getting to 3,000 is a long way off, but hopefully I can ride a lot more winners.”

Hobbs was understandably full of praise for Johnson, saying: “The main thing about him is that he is massively reliable, loyal and also a very, very good fellow to be around.

“There is only one fellow to have ridden more winners than him.

“His ride on Monkerhostin when he won the Coral Cup (2004) is one that stands out for me.

“He was so far back that I thought it was ludicrous.

“He was right out the back door as they went very fast, but he waited and ended up being right in it.”

Lee added: “It is very, very nice for us to provide Richard with his 2,000th winner as we have known him since he was a lad and he is a great sort.

“I used to go point-to-pointing with his father and my daughter Kerry used to go to pony club with him.

“He is a good Herefordshire lad and he is practically neighbours with us.

“He has been riding for me since he was an amateur and is my first-choice jockey.”

Another of Johnson’s weighing-room colleagues, Tom Scudamore, said: “He’s just a gentleman, a great rider, and a good Herefordshire boy too.”

Johnson managed two key successes on the great Florida Pearl in the 2001 and 2004 Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown.

Trainer Willie Mullins said: “I’ve just seen that he’s reached the 2,000 mark and obviously it is a terrific achievement.

“It’s always nice to see things like that and obviously he’s a fantastic rider and it’s well deserved.

“He was lucky for me winning the Irish Hennessy twice on Florida Pearl and the second of those was Florida Pearl’s fourth win in the race, which was a great day for me.”

Terry Warner, the owner of Rooster Booster and Triumph Hurdle winner Detroit City, could not speak highly enough of Johnson either.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Warner.

“I’ve had some of my best days on a racecourse with him – he’s won a Champion Hurdle, a Triumph Hurdle and I should think he’s ridden nearly 50 winners for me.

“He’s one of the nicest chaps you could ever meet. He’s quiet, unassuming and he’s just a nice fellow.

“Rooster Booster was quite a difficult ride, he had to be held right up and come very late.

“Detroit City was a much easier ride, though. He won six on him and seven on Rooster Booster.

“I couldn’t say a bad word about him. I’d love to see him become champion jockey so he can achieve his one goal in life.

“I suppose one of these days McCoy might retire and it might happen.”

Chance, who is also Johnson’s father-in-law, echoed Warner’s sentiments.

He said: “I’m delighted for him, it’s a great achievement.

“Apart from him being married to my daughter we go back a long way, he rode Mr Mulligan (the 1997 Gold Cup winner) for us in the early days and he’s always been a proper fellow.

“Obviously Tony has ridden 3,000, which is something else, but it’s great for him.

“I think he must have still been a teenager when he started riding Mr Mulligan in his novice chases.

“It was a freak that he got to ride the ride for us. I was a private trainer at the time for Michael Worcester and he had a horse called Monty Royale.

“He wanted Jamie Osborne to ride it in the Summer Hurdle but he didn’t fancy going to Market Rasen on a Saturday for one ride. Then he wanted Graham Bradley but he didn’t fancy it either.

“Eventually he got a bit exasperated and told me he had seen a young lad in a hunter chase who should have fallen off but didn’t – his name was Johnson.

“It took me three days to track him down but the rest, as they say, is history.

“They won the biggest prize in summer jumping and I then offered him the job to ride all my horses.

“He just couldn’t commit to Mr Mulligan otherwise he would have ridden him in the Gold Cup but we got him one on Looks Like Trouble.”

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