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Geraghty and Johnson primed for Leger Legends duty

Barry Geraghty admits it will be a strange experience taking part in the Mondialiste Leger Legends Classified Stakes at Doncaster on Wednesday.

One of the sport’s greatest ever jump jockeys, and twice champion in Ireland, he has had little experience on the Flat.

The 41-year-old, who won the 2003 Grand National aboard Monty’s Pass and rode 43 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, teams up with Lambourn trainer Charlie Hills aboard Mumtaaz.

“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s great. His form is good. He had a good run at Windsor last time, so hopefully he can go well,” said Geraghty, who retired from the saddle in July 2020.

“A mile out of stalls will be very different. It will be a strange one, but I had plenty of winners at Doncaster.

“I’ve been riding out all summer so I’ve been keeping in reasonable shape.”

Among Geraghty’s rivals is four-time UK champion Richard Johnson, who will be aboard Greek Kodiac for Michael Bell.

Johnson, 44, only gave up race-riding in April after a long and highly-successful career. He won two Cheltenham Gold Cups, the Champion Hurdle and Queen Mother Champion Chase and rode more winners over jumps than any other jockey bar Sir Anthony McCoy – who won the Legends race in 2015.

“It will be the fastest I’ve been in five months, that is for sure. It’s fantastic to be involved and amazing to do something for the Injured Jockeys Fund. Anything we can do to help is not a problem,” he told Sky Sports Racing.

Richard Johnson rides Greek Kodiac in the Legends race
Richard Johnson rides Greek Kodiac in the Legends race (David Davies/PA)

“Hopefully, we’ll have fun and I’d love to win as well.

“He’s won a couple of races this year and apparently he likes a straight mile, which I presume is a good thing.

“I’ve had a few rides on the Flat, but only very limited experience so I’m hoping within reason I can go in a straight line and hopefully be quicker than the rest.

“I’ve not raced from out of the stalls for a few years, but it’s going to be great. Barry’s coming over from Ireland and the likes of Noel Fehily and Robert Winston off the Flat. Just a really good bunch and I’m sure it will be a bit of fun as well as being competitive.”

The race was first run in 2010 and has so far raised more than £1million for Jack Berry House and the Northern Racing College.

Johnson and Geraghty return in Leger Legends

Richard Johnson and Barry Geraghty are among the riders who will take part in the Mondialiste Leger Legends Classified Stakes at Doncaster.

Johnson retired from the saddle in April of last year following a glittering career – during which he won two Cheltenham Gold Cups, a Champion Hurdle and a Queen Mother Champion Chase.

He also rode more winners over jumps than any other jockey bar Sir Anthony McCoy – who won the Legends race in 2015 – and was crowned champion National Hunt jockey on four occasions.

Barry Geraghty will return to the saddle in the Mondialiste Leger Legends Classified Stakes at Doncaster
Barry Geraghty is among the contenders for the Mondialiste Leger Legends Classified Stakes at Doncaster (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Johnson will partner Michael Bell’s Greek Kodiac on Wednesday, in a race which was first run in 2010 and has so far raised more than £1million for Jack Berry House and the Northern Racing College.

Geraghty, who won the 2003 Grand National aboard Monty’s Pass and rode 43 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, will be on board the Charlie Hills-trained Mumtaaz on Town Moor.

Johnson and Geraghty are two of 13 former riders who will contest the charity event.

Sammy Jo Bell, who won the race two years ago aboard Dubai Acclaim, is this year riding Fennaan – trained by her partner Phillip Makin.

Brian Harding (First Dance/Tom Tate) and Noel Fehily (Vasco da Gama/Gay Kelleway) are also in the mix.

The most valuable race on the opening day of the St Leger Festival is the £80,000 Japan Racing Association Sceptre Fillies’ Stakes, which has attracted a field of 12 runners.

Tarboosh is set to defend his Listed crown in the Cazoo Scarbrough Stakes
Tarboosh is set to defend his Listed crown in the Cazoo Scarbrough Stakes (PA)

Likely contenders for the Group Three contest include Ivan Furtado’s stable star Just Beautiful, who was denied only narrowly in a Group Three in France on her latest appearance.

John Quinn saddles consistent filly Highland Princess – runner-up to Space Blues in last month’s City of York Stakes – while Jessica Harrington’s Loch Lein and the Henry de Bromhead-trained Wren’s Breath both travel from Ireland.

Potapova (Sir Michael Stoute) and Sweet Enough (John and Thady Gosden) also feature.

Last year’s winner Tarboosh faces six rivals in defence of his crown in the Listed Cazoo Scarbrough Stakes.

Paul Midgley’s veteran sprinter is taken on by a handful of familiar names, with Robert Cowell’s Arecibo setting the standard on ratings.

Richard Johnson eager to contest Leger Legends

Former champion jockey Richard Johnson said he could not turn down the chance to help raise funds for racing charities by getting involved in this year’s Mondialiste Leger Legends Classified Stakes at Doncaster.

Johnson retired only in April after a career which saw him ride more winners over jumps than any other jockey bar Sir Anthony McCoy – who won the Legends race in 2015.

Among his big-race successes were two Cheltenham Gold Cups, on Looks Like Trouble and Native River, a Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster and a Queen Mother Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles.

He rode his first winner in 1994, was champion conditional in 1995-96 and – having been the perennial runner-up to McCoy – was finally champion jockey for the first time in 2015-16, retaining the title for the following three seasons.

Richard Johnson after winning the Gold Cup on Native River
Richard Johnson after winning the Gold Cup on Native River (Steven Paston/PA)

Former weighing-room colleague Barry Geraghty is another big name to have already signed up for the race, which has become an established attraction on the opening day of the St Leger Festival on Town Moor.

It was first run in 2010 and has so far raised more than £1million for Jack Berry House and the Northern Racing College.

“I think I had a phone call from Andrew Thornton (former jockey and one of the organisers) a couple of minutes after I announced my retirement (back in April) at Newton Abbot!” said Johnson.

“It will be good fun and obviously the chance to do something for the IJF, who are close to all our hearts – I couldn’t turn it down. It’s also a chance to see some of the lads again – it should be a good day out.

“We have a lot of young horses at home, which is mainly what I’ve been doing. I did go into Henry Daly’s the other day just to have a spin, and that is something I might do again. I might go to a few of my other old trainers, just to try to get the body back into some sort of shape.

“It has only been five months but it is amazing how quickly your fitness leaves a bit to be desired. Hopefully I won’t make a fool of myself.

“My weight has been OK. I haven’t actually been on the scales but thankfully I don’t have to lose any weight – which is definitely a help.”

While Johnson has ridden many great horses, none was over a mile or required to leave starting stalls.

He added: “I won’t have been as quick as they’ll go for a long time, though, and I’ll have to ask some of the lads for advice about the starting stalls – because it is definitely a long time since I went through any of those.

“I think I’ll just be trying not to make a fool of myself. It will be lots of fun, and the opportunity to do something for the IJF means a lot.”

Other former jockeys involved include Sammy Jo Bell, who won the race in 2019, and Noel Fehily.

Tables at the Leger Legends lunch can be booked via Sarah Wilding at swilding@brewsterpartners.co.uk.

Tom O’Brien set for bigger role with Philip Hobbs’ team

Tom O’Brien is set to ride the “majority” of Philip Hobbs’ runners following the surprise retirement of Richard Johnson on Saturday.

Four-times champion jockey Johnson hung up his boots with immediate effect after finishing third on the Hobbs-trained Brother Tedd at Newton Abbot, bringing to an end an enduring partnership between rider and handler.

Hobbs admits Johnson will be hard to replace, but expects O’Brien, who has already enjoyed a long association with the yard, to take the lion’s share of rides for the Somerset team, with some younger jockeys also in line for expanded roles.

Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck on Sunday programme, Hobbs said: “He (Johnson) has been involved here for so long and is such a part of our establishment and a good friend of all of us and all the owners, it will be a big hole.

“But we have to move on. Tom O’Brien will be riding the majority and we’ve got very good lads in the yard here – Ben Jones, who won the Hennessy (Ladbrokes Trophy) last year, and Sean Houlihan. They’re both 3lb claimers who are involved here on a daily basis.

“I must also mention Micheal Nolan, who was second in the conditional jockeys’ title some years ago and has been so unlucky with injuries, but hopefully he’s getting over that now. He rode a treble the other day at Wincanton – he’ll have plenty of chances, too.

“Like Richard, Tom was champion conditional. He’s a very good rider and has won on all the horses he should be winning on, but hasn’t had the opportunities perhaps he deserves.

“There will be more opportunities from now on.”

Colin Tizzard salutes ‘phenomenal’ Richard Johnson

Colin Tizzard and Noel Chance, who provided Richard Johnson with his two victories in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, paid tribute to the four-time champion jockey following his retirement from the saddle.

The 43-year-old announced his unexpected decision after riding at Newton Abbot on Saturday – calling time on a glittering career spanning almost three decades.

Johnson and the Tizzard-trained Native River proved a match made in heaven – winning an epic Gold Cup in 2018 as well as finishing third in the blue riband in 2017, fourth in 2019 and fourth again last month.

Tizzard, who will shortly hand over the training licence at Venn Farm to son Joe, cannot speak highly enough of Johnson’s talent and determination to succeed.

He said: “I’m just glad he’s got out in one piece.

“He’s been phenomenal. He’s been a complete professional on and off horses and an example for any jockey coming through.

“When the opportunity came for him to ride Native River, it was like poetry in motion. They gelled together – him and that horse are like each other and achieved things we never thought possible.

“His work ethic is incredible and he’s just a good man.”

Richard Johnson and Looks Like Trouble (right) on their way to Gold Cup glory
Richard Johnson and Looks Like Trouble (right) on their way to Gold Cup glory (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Johnson’s second Gold Cup success came 18 years after his first, with Looks Like Trouble claiming victory in 2000.

Seven years later he went on to marry trainer Noel Chance’s daughter, with whom he now has three children.

Chance said: “We were sort of expecting something to happen for the last couple of weeks.

“I think he’s already said that if Native River had won the Gold Cup he’d have gone out on him, but once that didn’t happen, he really wanted to go out on one for Philip Hobbs.

“You could still be at it a month down the line and when your mind is made up, you’ve just got to do it.”

Chance recalls his first meeting with Johnson in 1995 with fondness, with his first ride for the trainer a winning one.

“We had a runner in the Summer Hurdle at Market Rasen,” Chance added.

“I was a private trainer at the time and we couldn’t get any of the big name jockeys to ride the horse.

“The fellow who owned the horse got the hump and said he’d seen a kid ride in a hunter chase a few days earlier. He said he should have fallen off, but he didn’t and his name was Johnson, so he asked me to see if we could get him.

“This was before there were a lot of jockeys’ agents and to cut a long story short, it took me two days to locate him! When I did, he was delighted to take the ride and his talent shone through immediately.

Richard Johnson has been a popular member of the weighing room
Richard Johnson has been a popular member of the weighing room (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He never went round one horse, he was on the inside the whole way round and sluiced in to win what was a very competitive handicap as a 7lb claimer.

“After that the owner wanted him to ride everything and he then fell in for the ride on Mr Mulligan and won the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot the following year.

“I’ve known him a long time and his greatest attribute is he’s a great human being. He always has been.”

After being runner-up to Sir Anthony McCoy on several occasions, Johnson finally became the champion National Hunt jockey for the first time in 2016 – a title he successfully defended for the following three years before Brian Hughes claimed the crown last season.

Hughes, who is currently in an enthralling title race with Harry Skelton, told Racing TV: “It’s definitely the end of an era.

Brian Hughes has nothing but praise for Johnson
Brian Hughes has nothing but praise for Johnson (Steve Davies/PA)

“It’s going to be different in the weighing room. I’ve known Richard since I’ve been in this country. He went out on his own terms and I wish him and his family all the best for the next chapter.

“I used to watch Richard Johnson from being very young. When he won his first Gold Cup on Looks Like Trouble, he was bred only five miles down the road from where I’m from, so it was the talk of the country at the time.

“When you’re riding against him, he’s an absolute gentleman. I can’t remember him ever raising his voice. He’s a brilliant man off the course, but a fierce competitor on it.

“He’s been at the top of his game for a long time and I was reading earlier where AP McCoy said he was so successful because he had someone like Richard Johnson pushing him every step of the way – I don’t think we’ll ever see the like of AP and Richard Johnson again.

“We all aspire to be as good as them, but in reality I don’t think we ever will be.”

McCoy and Walsh lead tributes to Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson’s fellow great jockeys Sir Anthony McCoy and Ruby Walsh led the tributes to the four-time champion following his retirement.

McCoy has repeatedly insisted he would never have set the records he managed in his career without Johnson pushing him all the way.

When McCoy retired after his 20 jockeys’ titles, it left the way clear for perennial runner-up Johnson to finally win the crown, and he managed another three before injury and the pandemic halted him in his tracks last season.

McCoy told Great British Racing: “On a professional level I probably got to know him better than anyone – and he’s a brilliant man to be around, a fantastic jockey and unbelievably competitive.

“He also has a great work ethic and is the fairest jockey you could ever ride against, so he has deserved all of his success.

“As I’ve said many times, having Richard to compete against for all of those years definitely made me a better jockey. But however good a jockey you think he is, he’s an even better person.”

McCoy also earlier tweeted: “Sometimes those who challenge us the most teach us the best.

“You did both to me for over 20 years – I will be forever grateful to you, thanks buddy. When you go home tonight, look in the mirror you’ll see what a champion looks like. Enjoy your retirement.”

Walsh made his admiration clear too.

He said: “What everyone knows about Richard Johnson is what an excellent jockey he is and what a great asset he is to racing.

“But what they might not know so much is that he is also a hard man, who has toughness and determination and an incredible pain threshold, as well as being a thoroughly decent human being.”

Johnson enjoyed many great days alongside trainer Henry Daly and still rode out for him on a weekly basis.

Daly believes it will be “impossible” to replace Johnson, who rode big winners for him on the likes of Mighty Man, Behrajan, Hand Inn Hand and Young Spartacus.

“It’s impossible to give a ‘quick tribute’ about Richard, I could go on forever,” said Daly.

“He’s been part of the fixtures and fittings here for 23 years. Every Tuesday morning he turns up – even when I don’t ask him to!

“His work ethic was unbelievable, and his attitude to the job was just incredible. It’s so hard to think of the right words that sum up a man like this.

“You will read endless quotes about what a nice guy he is, but that is because he is. I can honestly say in 23 years we never had a crossed word – which is astonishing because I’m a grumpy git!

“He never says no to anybody. It really is the mark of the man.

“I have a picture on my wall of when Mighty Man won as a novice at Aintree – where he was very good – and Dicky is up between his ears, that just sums them both up. They were a match made in heaven.

“People will say he leaves a void, but for Philip Hobbs and myself we won’t fill it – we will change what we do because of him. It’s impossible to replace him.”

Four-time champion trainer Nicky Henderson is another who is grateful to have seen Johnson’s dedication at first hand.

“He spent all those years in AP’s shadow, but if anything he has developed further as a jockey since AP’s retirement,” said Henderson.

“The input that he gives you is enormous, and his work ethic is unbelievable – he’ll go to Timbuktu for a ride. He’s tireless and a true asset to racing.”

Johnson’s weighing-room colleagues were also generous in their praise.

Tom Scudamore tweeted: “Simply the finest bloke and friend you could wish to have. When I grow up, I want to be like Richard Johnson.”

Aidan Coleman said: “Richard Johnson has been my hero from when he spoke to me on my first ever ride, can’t find the words to describe what he means to me from both a personal and professional point of view.”

Sam Twiston-Davies said: “Can’t believe the news, @dickyjohnson77 not just a legend but a hero to so many. Not just one of the best in the world, but also one of the nicest. Happy retirement #hero.”

Harry Skelton, who is battling to be champion jockey this year, added: “Words wouldn’t be able to describe how good a person Richard Johnson is. He is the ultimate role model to any human in general life, not just a jockey. Happy retirement @dickyjohnson77 #champion.”

Daryl Jacob said: “It’s been an absolute privilege to ride against ⁦@dickyjohnson77 throughout my career. A wonderful jockey and a real gentleman. Wishing him all the very best in the future.”

Jonjo O’Neill jnr, last year’s champion conditional, said: “The ultimate role model to anyone growing up. So determined, yet so humble and gracious.

“People like him just aren’t made every day. Strong as an ox, the ultimate champion. Just an unbelievable man.”

Professional Jockeys Association chief executive Paul Struthers added in a statement: “Dickie took over as Jumps President following AP McCoy’s retirement and has been actively involved in the PJA ever since.

“He is the nicest, kindest, most professional jockey I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with – and on both a personal and professional level, I am delighted he is retiring  from the saddle on his own terms.

“I cannot think of a single person who would have a bad word to say about him.

“Yet while there’s  a common saying that nice guys don’t win, Dickie has been at the top of his profession for close to  30 years – and only someone as remarkable as AP McCoy prevented him from being champion jump jockey more than the four times he was.

“He was the most amazing role model to other jockeys – incredibly professional in every aspect and a great communicator.

“Like so many senior jockeys before him, Dickie didn’t look out for just himself. He was passionate about the plight of all jockeys and was an excellent and active president of the PJA.

“He’s devoted himself to the racing industry and thoroughly deserves to enjoy a happy  retirement from the saddle with his family. We and his colleagues will miss him terribly.”

Johnson’s quiet exit is testament to true champion

It seems fitting that Richard Johnson retired after a third place on Easter Saturday at Newton Abbot, rather than waiting to go in a blaze of glory at next week’s Grand National meeting – or even Sandown’s season finale.

None would have begrudged Johnson, affectionately known as Dicky, a final shot at a Grade One with Thyme Hill, a last spin around the National fences or a fanfare on the final day of the campaign.

However, he is not a man who would take the spotlight away from a National winner or a newly-crowned champion jockey.

Richard Johnson in full flow on Thyme Hill en route to victory in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury this season
Richard Johnson in full flow on Thyme Hill en route to victory in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The 43-year-old is famed for his easy-going attitude, willingness to help and above all his dedication to the saddle – which has seen him notch up a remarkable set of statistics over his long and hugely successful career.

It is almost 27 years since he secured his first winner aboard Rusty Bridge in a Hereford hunter chase – and in the subsequent years he established himself as one of the greatest as well as most popular National Hunt jockeys in history.

Johnson rode more than 3,800 career winners, including two Cheltenham Gold Cup successes aboard Looks Like Trouble (2000) and Native River (2018), a Queen Mother Champion Chase triumph on Flagship Uberalles (2002), Champion Hurdle glory with Rooster Booster (2003) and the World Hurdle on Anzum (1999) – the biggest four races at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Grand National evaded him, as it has so many others – his second place on Philip Hobbs’ What’s Up Boys the nearest he came, in 2002. But that did not stop him being accorded an OBE in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List, for services to horseracing.

It is fair to say he has come a long way since growing up on a Herefordshire farm and getting the leg-up on his first pony, Twinkle – and yet he had to spend most of his career in the giant shadow of the greatest of them all, Sir Anthony McCoy.

Johnson’s statistics are nothing short of staggering, but even they do not quite measure up against 20-time champion McCoy’s mind-boggling figures.

Having finished runner-up to the Ulsterman so many times in the jockeys’ title race, Johnson could be forgiven for having felt his day at the top might never come.

But rather than becoming bitter, he saw his close friend and rival – who retired, having ridden an all-time record 4,358 winners – as an example of what can be achieved through hard work and dedication.

He once said: “I had years of great racing with AP (McCoy), and it was frustrating not to beat him, but I had a fantastic time. Apart from the fact that I didn’t beat him, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

With his mother Susan a trainer and both his father Keith and grandfather Ivor successful amateur riders, Johnson was bred to be a jockey.

After graduating from ponies, he started riding out for the brilliant trainer David Nicholson in the school holidays before becoming pupil after leaving school at 16. After initially riding as an amateur, Johnson turned professional in 1995 – and the following year was crowned champion conditional.

It was a long wait to finally get his hands on the champion jockey trophy, but he first achieved that feat in 2016 – and then entered his own short period of domination, notching three more wins in the following years.

Sporting John's success in the Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown was one of Richard Johnson's big-race winners this season
Sporting John’s success in the Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown was one of Richard Johnson’s big-race winners this season (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Johnson could well have made it five last season had he not broken his arm in January. He made a swift recovery in just 37 days – but with the campaign curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, he lost any chance of making up ground on Brian Hughes.

The winners did not flow quite so freely this term – although Thyme Hill, Sporting John and old ally Native River ensured some high spots along the way.

The fact Johnson was so content to bid adieu aboard a horse sent out by Hobbs, his long-time retained trainer – regardless of result – demonstrates the loyalty and respect of their enduring partnership.

It is a shame coronavirus restrictions meant his wife Fiona, daughter of dual Cheltenham Gold-Cup winning trainer Noel Chance, and their three children could not be there for his farewell – and the crowds he has thrilled over almost 30 years had to stay away too.

But Johnson bows out a true giant of the weighing room, the epitome in every sense of a sportsman.

Old rival McCoy leads tributes to retiring Johnson

Sir Anthony McCoy expressed his gratitude to his old friend and rival Richard Johnson following the retirement of the four-times champion jockey.

McCoy has repeatedly insisted he would never have set the records he managed in his career without Johnson pushing him all the way.

When McCoy retired, it left the way clear for perennial runner-up Johnson to finally win the crown, and he managed another three before injury and the pandemic halted him in his tracks last season.

McCoy tweeted: “Sometimes those who challenge us the most teach us the best.

“You did both to me for over 20 years – I will be forever grateful to you, thanks buddy. When you go home tonight, look in the mirror you’ll see what a champion looks like. Enjoy your retirement.”

Johnson enjoyed many great days alongside trainer Henry Daly and still rode out for him on a weekly basis.

Daly believes it will be “impossible” to replace Johnson, who rode big winners for him on the likes of Mighty Man, Behrajan, Hand Inn Hand and Young Spartacus.

“It’s impossible to give a ‘quick tribute’ about Richard, I could go on forever,” said Daly.

“He’s been part of the fixtures and fittings here for 23 years. Every Tuesday morning he turns up – even when I don’t ask him to!

“His work ethic was unbelievable, and his attitude to the job was just incredible. It’s so hard to think of the right words that sum up a man like this.

“You will read endless quotes about what a nice guy he is, but that is because he is. I can honestly say in 23 years we never had a crossed word – which is astonishing because I’m a grumpy git!

“He never says no to anybody. It really is the mark of the man.

“I have a picture on my wall of when Mighty Man won as a novice at Aintree – where he was very good – and Dicky is up between his ears, that just sums them both up. They were a match made in heaven.

“People will say he leaves a void, but for Philip Hobbs and myself we won’t fill it – we will change what we do because of him. It’s impossible to replace him.”

Johnson’s weighing room colleagues were also generous in their praise.

Tom Scudamore tweeted: “Simply the finest bloke and friend you could wish to have. When I grow up, I want to be like Richard Johnson.”

Fellow jockey Aidan Coleman said: “Richard Johnson has been my hero from when he spoke to me on my first ever ride, can’t find the words to describe what he means to me from both a personal and professional point of view.”

Sam Twiston-Davies said: “Can’t believe the news, @dickyjohnson77 not just a legend but a hero to so many. Not just one of the best in the world, but also one of the nicest. Happy retirement #hero.”

Harry Skelton, who is battling to be champion jockey this year, added: “Words wouldn’t be able to describe how good a person Richard Johnson is. He is the ultimate role model to any human in general life, not just a jockey. Happy retirement @dickyjohnson77 #champion.”

Daryl Jacob said: “It’s been an absolute privilege to ride against ⁦@dickyjohnson77 throughout my career. A wonderful jockey and a real gentleman. Wishing him all the very best in the future.”

Jonjo O’Neill jnr, last year’s champion conditional, said: “The ultimate role model to anyone growing up. So determined, yet so humble and gracious. People like him just aren’t made every day. Strong as an ox, the ultimate champion. Just an unbelievable man.”

Six of Richard Johnson’s best

Richard Johnson has plenty of winners to pick from – quite literally thousands. Here we select six of his most memorable mounts during a long and distinguished riding career.

Balthazar King

Balthazar King on the way to Cheltenham Festival glory
Balthazar King on the way to Cheltenham Festival glory (David Davies/PA)

A Cheltenham cross-country specialist, Balthazar King was a dual Festival winner over the banks course for Johnson – showing any amount of heart as he prevailed by narrow margins on both occasions. He has the distinction of being the only British-trained winner of the Glenfarclas Chase and also proved handy enough at Aintree, giving Johnson a Grand National second when beaten five lengths by Pineau De Re in 2014.

Flagship Uberalles

Flagship Uberalles was a Champion Chase victor for Johnson
Flagship Uberalles was a Champion Chase victor for Johnson (PA)

A horse more famed for his off-course owner drama, Flagship Uberalles enjoyed his crowning Cheltenham moment when with the Philip Hobbs-Johnson team, winning the 2002 Queen Mother Champion Chase. Having cantered home in a rescheduled Tingle Creek at Cheltenham earlier in the season, Flagship Uberalles demonstrated his natural brilliance as he came home a comfortable three-length victor.

Looks Like Trouble

Looks Like Trouble leads Florida Pearl in the Gold Cup
Looks Like Trouble leads Florida Pearl in the Gold Cup (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Trained by his future father-in-law Noel Chance, Looks Like Trouble really fired Johnson into the big time with his 2000 Cheltenham Gold Cup win. A mere 22-year-old, Johnson replaced Norman Williamson aboard Looks Like Trouble – and the duo outstayed the mighty Florida Pearl up the famous hill to bag the biggest prize of all by five lengths. Looks Like Trouble still resides with the Johnson family at the age of 29.

Menorah

Menorah retired to Richard Johnson's farm
Menorah retired to Richard Johnson’s farm (Julian Herbert/PA)

Another who retired to Johnson’s Herefordshire farm, Menorah enjoyed his moment in the Festival spotlight when winning the 2010 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. A Grade One scorer over fences at Aintree as a novice, Menorah was a fantastically tough campaigner, running 43 times in total, with all but a handful of outings in at least Listed company. Johnson was almost ever present in the saddle, riding 39 times – most fittingly steering him to a glorious farewell in the 2017 Oaksey Chase at Sandown as a 12-year-old.

Native River

Johnson and the Native River team at Cheltenham
Johnson and the Native River team at Cheltenham (Steven Paston/PA)

Johnson admitted he did not really appreciate his first Gold Cup win, but a second in 2018 aboard Colin Tizzard’s gutsy stayer Native River certainly hit home. Soft ground at Cheltenham ensured it was a real tes,  and Johnson seized the initiative aboard a proven stayer to execute a perfectly-judged front-running ride. Briefly headed by Might Bite two fences from home, Native River responded to Johnson’s driving to eventually pull four-and-a-half lengths clear.

Rooster Booster

Champion Hurdle hero Rooster Booster and Johnson
Champion Hurdle hero Rooster Booster and Johnson (Barry Batchelor/PA)

From County Hurdle winner in 2002, Rooster Booster graduated to the big time when winning the Champion Hurdle the following year. Another on whom Johnson rarely missed the ride, he had to show plenty of restraint as Rooster Booster tanked through the Festival feature before unleashing his finishing burst at the last. An 11-length winner that day, Rooster Booster struggled to match that performance again – but he was certainly one of the most popular horses in training before his untimely death on the gallops in 2005.

Hobbs hails ‘amazing role model’ Johnson as rider bows out

Philip Hobbs has paid tribute to Richard Johnson after the four-times champion jockey announced his retirement on Saturday evening.

Johnson, who finished second to his friend and rival Sir Anthony McCoy a further 17 times in the championship, called it a day at Newton Abbot after finishing third on Brother Tedd.

Hobbs and Johnson were one of the most successful partnerships in National Hunt history enjoying countless big-race wins together, including a Champion Hurdle with Rooster Booster and a Champion Chase through Flagship Uberalles.

Rooster Booster and Richard Johnson on their way to Champion Hurdle success
Rooster Booster and Richard Johnson on their way to Champion Hurdle success (David Davies/PA)

“He’s been a part of my life for a long time,” Hobbs told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’s been an amazing role model. You could never get anybody better for future jockeys to see what they need to do as far as the riding side, how to conduct yourself and everything that is needed to be a good jockey.

“It was only the last few days (that I had an inkling Johnson may retire). Obviously it had to happen someday, but at least he’s sound and in one piece, it’s a good time to get out.

“There is absolutely no side to him whatsoever, you never had an issue with him and that is phenomenal really.

“There’s been once or twice he hasn’t ridden a horse that I thought he should have done and that would be it.”

Hobbs also hailed Johnson’s dedication to his job.

He added: “His work ethic shone through. A few years ago, just before Cheltenham, he had to be at Kempton to ride work so probably left home about 4am, went to Kempton, then went to Catterick and rode a winner. He then had to get back for a Cheltenham preview, and went home at 2am.

“He didn’t have to come to us the next morning, but he did, leaving at 4am again, to school horses before he went racing. Nothing was ever too much trouble.

“He’d be trying his hardest on all the horses all the time, and that is very much appreciated by everyone he rides for.

“It’s a shame he couldn’t go out on a winner, but that is the way it goes.”

Flagship Uberalles was a Champion Chase winner for Richard Johnson
Flagship Uberalles was a Champion Chase winner for Richard Johnson (PA)

Reflecting on their biggest days, he said: “I suppose Rooster Booster winning the Champion Hurdle was our best day. Flagship Uberalles in the Champion Chase too, Captain Chris in the Arkle – there were plenty of other Cheltenham winners too.

“It’s just the day-to-day basis that is important. If he had one ride at Perth, he’d drive there and back without any issue.

“He just wanted to ride as many winners as he could and be champion jockey. Everyone gets on well with him and he’s been a great asset to us.”

Richard Johnson announces retirement

Four-time champion jumps jockey Richard Johnson has announced his retirement.

Johnson, 43, announced his unexpected decision after his final ride on Brother Tedd at Newton Abbot on Saturday.

He said: “After nearly 30 years in the saddle, the time has come for me to retire.

“I have been so extraordinarily lucky to have ridden so many wonderful horses, and for so many incredible trainers and owners.

“It was particularly important to me to finish on one for Philip and Sarah Hobbs – who, like Henry Daly, have supported me for over 20 years. I’ll never be able to articulate what their loyalty has meant to me.”

Many of Johnson’s highest-profile winners came for Hobbs, including on Rooster Booster in the 2003 Champion Hurdle.

He also rode two Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, Looks Like Trouble in 2000 and Native River in 2018

Johnson added in a statement:  “There are so many people to thank who have been part of my journey.

“Without ‘the Duke’ (trainer David Nicholson) and Dinah Nicholson and their remarkable staff, I’d never have got that first leg up.

Richard Johnson won his second Cheltenham Gold Cup on Native River in 2018
Richard Johnson won his second Cheltenham Gold Cup on Native River in 2018 (Tim Goode/PA)

“Noel Chance, Peter Bowen and Milton Bradley – thank you for putting your trust in me when I was starting out. Those were the days that shaped my career, with so many people who remain lifelong friends.

“The truth is there are simply too many people to thank on an individual basis, but you know who you are and what you mean to me. To jockeys past and present who I’ve shared weighing-room benches with up-and-down the country, to the valets who have looked after me, to the doctors who’ve patched me up and to the physios who’ve put me back together.

“Without (agent) Dave Roberts, I’d have never ridden as many winners – and without the help of physio Kate Davis in recent years, I wouldn’t physically have been able to. I salute you all.”

Johnson was a perennial runner-up to 20-times champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy for much of his career – but following his great rival’s retirement, he too made the title his own for four successive years, from 2015/16 to 2018/19.

He added: “Thank you to the Tote and the ROA for sponsoring me. Thanks to all the fantastic racecourses and staff that put on this great show and to all the media who have been so supportive for so long.

“To all horseracing fans who we have missed so much this year on our racecourses. Thank you for every cheer, every shout of encouragement – it’s given me enormous strength over the years. I am so very grateful to you all.

“To my wonderful family, thank you so much. Mum, Dad and my brother Nick who have always been by my side. Finally, to my wife Fiona and amazing children Willow, Caspar and Percy. Without you, nothing would have been possible.”

Orbys Legend provides Sandown cheer

Sandown victory for Orbys Legend provided minor consolation on the day Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs’ Cheltenham Festival lynchpin Thyme Hill was ruled out of the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

A minor but untimely injury means Thyme Hill will not renew his rivalry with Paisley Park next week.

Trainer Hobbs and jockey Johnson did have something to smile about, though, as Orbys Legend took the Paddy Power “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle for them in the colours of Highclere Thoroughbreds.

Taking advantage of a mistake from favourite and eventual third Lecale’s Article at the penultimate flight, the 9-4 winner stayed on in determined fashion to see off 20-1 shot Morfee by 12 lengths.

Reflecting on Thyme Hill’s Festival absence, Johnson said: “It’s one of those frustrating things that can happen the week before Cheltenham – he’s pulled a little muscle behind.

“Philip has taken the sensible decision to stop rather than try to get him there half ready. He’s a very exciting horse for the future, and Philip knows there’s no point going to the Festival unless you are spot on.”

Johnson hopes Sporting John may be his best chance of giving Hobbs a Festival winner this year, in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

He said: “When he won the Grade One round here (the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase) he got better and better, and he could be very good. I’d be amazed if he didn’t stay three miles.”

Johnson likes Orbys Legend too, and added: “I rode him in a bumper at the start of the season. He showed a very good attitude today, and is a chasing prospect for next season.”

Gericault Roque put up a fine weight-carrying performance in the Paddy Power Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, kickstarting a double for trainer David Pipe and jockey Fergus Gillard – which was completed by Sexy Lot in the closing “From The Horse’s Mouth” Podcast Novices” Handicap Hurdle.

Gericault Roque, the 3-1 joint favourite, locked horns with Anightinlambourn up the final hill and pulled nine and a half lengths clear.

Gillard said: “I thought he was a lovely big horse coming into the race – although with the hood off, I just wondered if the step back in trip would be OK for him. He certainly feels like a true galloper.”

Grey Diamond put his superior jumping to good use in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase, sealing victory over Dostal Phil with measured leaps at each of the last three fences under Sam Twiston-Davies.

Grey Diamond and Sam Twiston-Davies leading on the way to victory in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Sandown
Grey Diamond and Sam Twiston-Davies leading on the way to victory in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The 3-1 chance scored by three and a half lengths for in-form trainer Sam Thomas.

The Paddy Power Handicap Chase proved a battle of the top weights, with Frero Banbou proving too strong for Go Long.

The six-year-old, ridden by Charlie Deutsch, was in control from the Pond fence as he carried on Venetia Williams’ fine run – winning by nine lengths.

Bard Of Brittany (100-30 favourite), trained by Sheena West and patiently ridden by Marc Goldstein, claimed a second success in the space of a week when surviving a minor mistake at the last to score comfortably from Adicci in the Paddy Power “4 Sleeps To Cheltenham” Handicap Hurdle.

Festival ambition still burning bright for Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson has already won all of the main events at the Cheltenham Festival at least once – but he is approaching this year’s meeting with as much vim and vigour as ever.

The former champion jockey has been riding at racing’s showpiece fixture since the days when he was able to claim 7lb back in 1995.

His first victory came four years later, on Anzum in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and since then he has won the Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles, the Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster and the Gold Cup twice, first with Looks Like Trouble and more recently through Native River.

It is the latter who is spearheading a select team Johnson is looking forward to next week, following a display at Sandown which warmed the hearts of many National Hunt followers.

“Anyone that likes sport and racing in general, they love seeing someone at the top of their game for five or six seasons. Sandown really gave me the confidence that he can go to the Gold Cup with a fantastic chance,” said Johnson.

“I saw Joe Tizzard (son of trainer Colin) on Wednesday and we joked we hoped it could rain until next Saturday! As long as the ground is on the slower side I think he goes with a huge chance.

“He’s beaten all the ones in England and is the best of the English for me, I wouldn’t swap him for another.

“Obviously Al Boum Photo is the one to beat and we don’t know how good Champ is, but they’ll have to put a good performance in to beat Native River.”

It seems the 43-year-old is persistently fending off questions as to whether his own career might be coming to an end – but just like Native River, there is no sign of him stopping any time soon.

“Sandown showed he’s lost none of his enthusiasm and I certainly haven’t lost any of mine,” he said on a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“I love doing this. When I started it was a dream to be a jockey, let along be any good at it. To be rocking up at my 26th Festival, most don’t do that as a spectator so I’m very lucky.

“If anything I’m more excited this year than the first. I’m very lucky, usually I’m going there with a good book of rides. It doesn’t guarantee a winner, but I’ve got half a dozen very strong rides this year, I think.

“When I was just starting out my first ride was 50-1, Strong Beau in the Kim Muir (1995) for David Nicholson when realistically if he got round it was a bonus.”

The shortest priced of Johnson’s mounts next week will be the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill, who will meat former winner Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle for a third time this season – with the score currently level.

Thyme Hill (left) seemed to have the measure of Paisley Park only for him to fly close home
Thyme Hill (left) seemed to have the measure of Paisley Park only for him to fly close home (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I think the slightly better ground might just help us and he’s only had six runs over hurdles, so I’d hope he is still improving. It’s far from a two-horse race, though Paisley Park is the obvious one to beat,” said Johnson.

“When you get beaten like at Ascot you always think what you could have done it differently, but at the same time I was really pleased as he travelled sweetly and jumped well. For a horse without much experience he’s really matured this year and that is what gives me confidence going to Cheltenham that we can get a different result.

“He’s got the right profile and I still think there is more to come. The ground might be a bit more in our favour and going to Cheltenham horses like Thyme Hill are the ones you want to be on. I can see him winning the Stayers’ Hurdle.”

The Hobbs-trained Zanza in the Grand Annual and a fine spare picked up on Aye Right in the Ultima Handicap Chase due to the suspension of Callum Bewley supplement Johnson’s hand nicely.

Sporting John is another Grade One-winner he can look forward to, but whether he takes on Envoi Allen in the Marsh or Monkfish in the Brown Advisory has still to be decided. Either way he will come up against a rival who has so far looked the real deal.

“I think it will depend on what the ground is like as to where he ends up, but unfortunately neither race is an easy option. We have to take on either Envoi Allen or Monkfish who are both hot favourites,” said Johnson.

“Whichever race he runs in I’d like to think he’ll be in the mix. We always hear this or that can’t be beaten at Cheltenham, but we all know differently as not all the favourites win.

“Both Envoi Allen and Monkfish have already won at Cheltenham, but they’ve still got to turn up and produce on the day. I wouldn’t put anybody off him whichever race he runs in. He’s already a Grade One winner and is very good, you should never shy away from one.”

For a man who has won it all it is difficult to pick out just one favourite when his highlight reel could run for hours – but his victory on the popular Rooster Booster in the 2003 Champion Hurdle is certainly one that springs to mind.

Rooster Booster gained a huge army of followers
Rooster Booster gained a huge army of followers (David Davies/PA)

“It’s hard to pick a favourite, but Rooster came along very early in my association with Philip, maybe only three or four years into the partnership,” he said.

“He gave 110 per cent every time. The year he won the Champion Hurdle, they went very fast early and it all just seemed to happen for him. He was still running away with me coming to the second-last, which shouldn’t happen in a Champion Hurdle.

“That day he was absolutely awesome so he figures very high in my memories.”

He added: “Looks Like Trouble is out in the stable here, he’s 29 now. He was a huge part of my career. I’d won the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1999 on Anzum for the Duke (David Nicholson) which got me going, but to ride the Gold Cup winner in 2000 was a huge reason why I started getting very good horses to ride in the top tier.

“He’s special so to have him as a family pet is great. We have Menorah (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner of 2010), too. The children have ridden both of them.”

If Johnson has one regret this year it is that he will not be retaining the jockeys’ championship he lost to Brian Hughes last season having won the previous four upon the retirement of Sir Anthony McCoy.

“I’m disappointed and frustrated not to be involved. Brian is involved again and the great thing for him is he rides for loads of different trainers which coming up to the end of the season is crucial,” said Johnson.

“But the two Harrys (Skelton and Cobden) have two huge stables and unbelievable firepower behind them. It will be a very busy six weeks for them all and will probably come down to the last week.

“I don’t know how many I’ve got left in me, someone asked me this the other day and that becomes a worry when they keep asking the same question!

“I’ve never really had a weight problem luckily, unlike AP (McCoy) or Mick Fitzgerald. I’m loving what I do and when you ride for Philip Hobbs it makes things enjoyable.

“I’m thinking if Thyme Hill goes over fences next year he could be in the Gold Cup in a couple of years, so there’s always reasons to look to the future.”

Richard Johnson in line to ride Aye Right at Cheltenham

Harriet Graham is hoping to book Richard Johnson for Aye Right in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.

The ride has come up for grabs as Aye Right’s regular partner Callum Bewley will be serving a suspension during the Festival.

Bewley has ridden Aye Right in all but one of his 22 races, with Johnson on board when the horse won a handicap hurdle at Kelso in September 2019.

Jedburgh trainer Graham said: “He’s on track to go to the Ultima at Cheltenham.

“I’m thinking Richard Johnson will probably be on him. Callum is banned for Cheltenham, so he can’t ride him. He would normally have ridden him.

“It’s all systems go for Cheltenham.”

Graham decided against a trip to Kelso this weekend as part of the eight-year-old’s preparation.

“We would have liked to have gone to the Premier Chase at Kelso,” she added.

“But it’s just a bit too close to Cheltenham, so we decided not to.”

Aye Right has performed with great credit in all his four starts over fences this season, without getting his head in front. His efforts include a third in the Charlie Hall Chase and second in both the Ladbrokes Trophy and the Sky Bet Handicap Chase.

His form from the Ladbrokes Trophy was boosted at Kelso on Saturday when race winner and Grand National favourite Cloth Cap landed the Listed Premier Chase with ease.

Paisley and Thyme ready for round two in Long Walk cracker

Thyme Hill and Paisley Park engage in what promises to be a fascinating rematch for the Porsche Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.

The Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill won three of his four starts in the novice hurdling division last season – his only defeat coming as a close-up fourth in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival.

The six-year-old made a successful reappearance when seeing off Paisley Park by a length and a half in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle three weeks ago – and four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson hopes he can confirm his superiority this weekend.

Johnson said: “He’s in very good form. Hopefully he can build on his Newbury performance in what is a very good renewal of the race.

“It’s going to take a lot of winning, but obviously I wouldn’t swap Thyme Hill for anything else.

“I was very pleased with him at Newbury. It’s going to be testing conditions on Saturday, and whatever wins the race is going to have to put up a good performance.

“In these races, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park landed this Grade One prize during what was a faultless campaign two seasons ago.

However, an unbeaten run of seven straight victories came to an abrupt end when he finished only seventh in defence of his Stayers’ Hurdle crown in March, after which he was found to be suffering from a heart problem.

Connections were justifiably thrilled with his Newbury comeback, and he is 3lb better off with Thyme Hill for their second clash.

“He had a lovely blow this (Friday) morning and he’s very fresh. He’s all set for Saturday,” said Lavelle.

“There’s always plenty to be done here, so you can keep focused on that before thinking too much about Saturday. I think the drive to Ascot will be when the nervous excitement will kick in.

“It’s very exciting to have horses able to run in these kind of races – and from Paisley’s point of view, it’s just lovely to see him back on the track after what happened at Cheltenham.”

Paisley Park bids to bounce back to winning ways
Paisley Park bids to bounce back to winning ways (David Davies/PA)

Paisley Park was declared a non-runner on the morning of last year’s Long Walk Hurdle because of the ultra-testing conditions.

Soft ground will again be to the fore, but Lavelle is not making any pre-race excuses, adding: “You just want everyone to have a clear run, and the best horse wins.

“You never want to run on extremes of going, but the ground is what the ground is.

“He’s handled soft ground before. I’m glad we’ve got a run under our belt before running on this ground, but I think he has every right to handle it as well as anything else, anyway.”

Main Fact bids to stretch his remarkable winning streak to double figures for trainer David Pipe.

The seven-year-old appeared to relish the step up to three miles when making it nine on the bounce in the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock – and now aims to complete his fairytale rise with a top-level success under conditional Fergus Gillard .

Pipe said: “He’s been fantastic. We have to improve again, and obviously the first two in the betting (Thyme Hill and Paisley Park) are the ones to beat, but at least we’ll have our favoured ground. Maybe he’ll handle the ground better than the top two.

“He keeps beating what’s put in front of him. It will be tough for him on Saturday, but he’s definitely earned his place and we’ll give it our best shot.

“If he can finish in the first three, it will be another fantastic run.”

Roksana bids to beat the boys
Roksana bids to beat the boys (Nigel French/PA)

The only mare in the field is Dan Skelton’s Roksana, who was thoroughly impressive on her return to action at Wetherby in October and has purposely been kept fresh for this race since.

Skelton said: “Obviously the boys have got to give us 7lb. She had a great run at Wetherby last time, and this has been the target since.

“I’m very happy with how she looks and she handles soft ground. It’s the first time we’ve gone to this level, and we’re excited and ready to go.”

It is five years since Thistlecrack trounced his Long Walk rivals for Colin Tizzard and Tom Scudamore and he was due to bid again but unfortunately he was withdrawn on the morning of the race due to lameness.