On the penultimate day of the 2018/19 National Hunt season, Richard Johnson rode Load Up Time, trained by Gordon Elliot, to victory at Perth to reach two hundred winners in a season for just the second time in his career. Nevertheless, his seasonal total was more than enough to win the Stobart Jump Jockeys’ Championship for the fourth consecutive year.
After starting his riding career in the point-to-point field, under the guidance of the late David ‘Duke’ Nicholson – who would provide his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Anzum, in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1999 – Johnson became Champion Conditional Jockey in 1995/96. Thereafter, every season for the next two decades he set off in determined, but ultimately fruitless, pursuit of Sir Anthony McCoy in his quest for his first jockeys’ title. Indeed, Johnson was runner-up in the jockeys’ championship sixteen times, before finally emerging from the shadow of his arch rival – who retired at the end of the 2014/15 season – to win become Champion Jockey in 2015/16, with a career-best total of 235 winners.
In 2016/17 and 2017/18, fell just short of a double century of winners, with a seasonal tally of 176 and 189 winners, respectively. Nevertheless, he enjoyed notable victories in the Hennessy Gold Cup, Welsh National and Cheltenham Gold Cup with Native River, trained by Colin Tizzard, and the Triumph Hurdle with Defi Du Seul, trained by Nicky Henderson. Indeed, at the Cheltenham Festival, Johnson is the fourth most successful jockey of all time and, following the retirement of Ruby Walsh, is one of just two jockeys still riding to have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle. In 2018/19, he rode over a hundred winners for the twenty-third season in a row.
For all his success, Johnson has a less-than-enviable record in the Grand National. Having missed the world famous steeplechase in 2017 and 2018 – in anticipation of a horse with a ‘good chance’ – he took his record twenty-first ride on Rock The Kasbah, trained by Philip Hobbs, in the 2019 renewal. Sadly, Rock The Kasbah was always behind and fell at the first open ditch on the second circuit, leaving Johnson with a record of two second places – on What’s Up Boys in 2002 and Balthazar King in 2014 – and 15 non-completions from 21 rides.