Born in Hereford on the 21st July 1977, National Hunt jockey Richard Johnson was a new addition to a family already associated with horse racing. His mother Sue was a trainer and father Keith was a point-to-pointer and amateur race jockey.
He had ponies as a child including one that he described as being a “speedy little thing” that ignited his desire to ride in races. Growing up, he took part in eventing but saw dressage as being too slow and wanted to do something else.
At the age of 16, he went to work as stable lad for David Nicholson’s yard, the same yard where champion jockey’s Richard Dunwoody and Peter Scudamore had found success. This would be the start of a brilliant racing career.
He would ride his first winner when ‘Rusty Bridge’ won at Hereford in 1994 and then became champion conditional jockey in 1995, the same year he turned professional, at the age of just 18.
He rode over 100 winners in a single season for the first time in 1996/97 and has gone on to achieve that feat every year since – making 2015/16 the twentieth year in a row.ll,
In 1999, he rode his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival when ‘Anzum’ won the Stayers Hurdle and has since gone on to have plenty of success at this prestigious venue. A first Cheltenham Gold Cup on ‘Looks Like Trouble’ in 2000 was followed by ‘Flagship Uberalles’ winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2002 and ‘Rooster Booster’ the Champion Hurdle in 2003. He is actually one of only three riders still active, along with Barry Geraghty and Ruby Walsh, to win all four of these major races.
His career really took off and hit new heights after becoming stable jockey for Philip Hobbs in 2000, a move that formed a formidable partnership that has gone on to win a number of big races together.
He became only the eighth National Hunt jockey to ride 1000 career winners in Britain in 2003, when ‘Quedex’ won at Stratford. He rode his 2000th winner in December 2009 on ‘Fighting Chance’ at Newbury to become only the second man to reach that milestone and then reached 3000 winners with ‘St Saviour’ winning at Ludlow in January 2016.
To date, Johnson has ridden 3,022 winners in his career which puts him second on the all-time National Hunt list behind his good friend, and arguably the best jump jockey ever, A P McCoy. McCoy retired at the end of the 2015 season to bring to an end a rivalry between the two that was built on friendship, respect and professionalism.
With just a month of the 2015/16 season left, at the time of writing this, Johnson is 97 wins ahead of his nearest rival Aidan Coleman and is on course for his first ever National Hunt champion jockey title. This will be the crowning achievement of his career after finishing runner up to McCoy on 16 occasions. This year has also seen him become only the third jump jockey in history to ride over 200 winners in a single season, along with McCoy and Peter Scudamore. He currently has 217 winners for the season and will be hoping for plenty more before April 23rd.
Despite his success, he has one record that he isn’t so proud of. He is the jockey that has had most rides in the Grand National without ever winning the race. Of the nineteen he has ridden in, his best finish has been second on two separate occasions. He will be hoping to end this season of firsts with success at Aintree, as he rides current 33-1 shot ‘Kruzhlinin’ in the 2016 race next month. It is a horse that finished tenth two years ago and that Johnson has described as “the ideal Grand National type” so he will be eyeing success.
Outside of racing, the man who describes himself as “a farmer who rides a bit” was once on the fringes of the Royal family, being in a relationship with Zara Phillips that lasted for five years. It was a relationship that thrust Johnson into the media spotlight and saw him hounded by the tabloids. Several stories about him were published, many of which were untrue and threatened to damage his reputation., before the couple ended things in 2003.
He is now happily married to Fiona, daughter of dual Gold Cup winning trainer Noel Chance, with whom he has three young children.
A strong and brave jockey that has sometimes found himself criticised for his hard riding style and number of fallers, he is perhaps best known for his ability to judge the pace of a race. He has achieved a huge amount of success with his risky riding style, despite any negative attention it may have received.
Richard Johnson, affectionately known as Dickie, is a humble man from a farming background who has continued to smile and enjoy his profession despite playing second fiddle to A P McCoy throughout his career.
Johnson will always be regarded as one of the most accomplished jump jockeys in the sport and his name will sit alongside his friend in the record books. He is on the verge of a long-awaited and fully deserved first champion jockey title and one he hopes will be the first of many.