Gifford spent his whole life in racing, having his first ride at the age of 12 at Newmarket in 1953, and riding his first winner three years later on Trentham Boy in the Manchester November Handicap. He had not reached his 15th birthday at the time. When he took up riding over the jumps he was soon amongst the winners, with the first one coming at Wincanton in 1959.
In a successful riding career he scored four winners at the Cheltenham Festival and was champion jockey on four occasions. He also finished second on Honey End in the 1967 Grand National won by Foinavon.
Gifford came to the attention of a much wider public by nursing Aldaniti back from a career threatening injury to win the 1981 Grand National, partnered by Bob Champion, who had himself recovered from cancer. Gifford showed he was an accomplished thespian two years later, playing himself in the film Champions alongside John Hurt who starred as the jockey.
Leading the tributes Champion said he was indebted to Gifford for supporting him during his illness and for sticking by him when he returned to the saddle. "He was a great jockey, a great trainer and a great man. He was so loyal to his jockeys."
There were many other top horses in his care that contributed to the more than 1500 winners he trained. Declan Murphy, who as stable jockey in the 1990s partnered Deep Sensation and Bradbury Star said, "He was such a wonderful man to ride for. It was a great honour for me to ride for someone like Josh because he had experienced what few people have. He had experienced riding at the highest level. He trained at the highest level and trained great horses. To ride for somebody like that who had such an understanding of the game made my job a lot easier."
Richard Rowe, a trainer himself these days, and another former stable jockey for Gifford, said that when faced with a difficult trading situation he often tries to work out what his mentor would have done.
He said, "The reason my dad was so keen for me to join Josh was that he'd been a great jockey and he said that there’d be no-one better to learn of them from f – he was right. And so it's been with my training, I often think ‘what would Josh do now’ and try to copy him. I couldn't have wished for a better teacher."
He added that when he went to visit Gifford last week, "It was meant to be a brief visit but it lasted three and a half hours. I was very grateful I had the chance to see him before he passed away. His health was back and forth a bit. He’d have a blood transfusion and have a good spell but then the infection (septicaemia) would return. My time there was the best for both of our careers, he was a great man to work for."