Shock news for us all, late afternoon on Saturday, when Richard Johnson announced his retirement. Yes, we all knew in our heart of hearts it would happen sometime …. but we all selfishly hoped he’d go on for ever! We felt emotional enough so goodness knows how his family felt, although obviously not as much of a shock to them and they undoubtedly must be feeling plenty of relief and also overwhelming pride.
The outpouring of love for him on social media was unbelievable – from racegoers to racing media to owners and racing grooms to professionals within the industry, they all said the same things – how when they’d met Richard he was polite, humble, always made time for them and was the ultimate professional . Sometimes jockeys are described as being ‘too nice ‘ and ‘too polite’ to be top class – but Richard showed that it was possible to be at the absolute top of his game for such an incredible length of time but still be a true gentleman and the best ambassador for our sport and role model to our children that we could ever have.
For us personally, Belinda and I met Richard at The Duke’s when he came in his school holidays. I’d already started full time and Belinda was still in full time education but riding out before school. The Duke had rung her parents asking if they had room for ‘A good lad from a lovely family in Herefordshire’ to stay but they hadn’t and he arranged for him to stay locally and asked Belinda to pick him up every morning – his own personal taxi service! When The Duke asked you to do something, you generally did and he was always so good to Belinda that she was always happy to help but who’d have known this polite young man who already looked so talented would go on to achieve what he has done?!
Too many memories of Richard to share here – that would take all day – but we would never have dreamt in those early days that for us personally he’d go on to ride so many winners for us (and they could have been even more as he missed out on a few due to injury including on Back On The Lash winning at Cheltenham and Capital Force winning a Class 3 Chase at Ludlow). He had a 20% strike rate for us riding 22 winners and races worth over £163k and to win at Cheltenham for us on Altesse De Guye in 2016, the 2nd part of a double for us (Any Currency/Aidan Coleman) was very special indeed.
He undoubtedly won races other jockeys wouldn’t have won on and one that springs to mind was Foxtrot Racing’s Solstice Star over fences at Catterick in 2019 where he never looked like winning. He was still 4 lengths down jumping the last and somehow, even with a short run in, he galvanised him again to actually win a shade cosily by ½ a length to record Solstice’s 1st Chase win and a quick fire double for us after Dickie won the race before, a Maiden Hurdle, on Reve. Dave Roberts, his hard working agent and a man of few words even via text, even messaged me after Solstice’s win to say what a special ride it was. Solstice Star was the type of horse Richard was made for and Mr Mafia too – how we will miss watching him on Mafia (in what could well be his last season too aged 12) as they looked to have so much fun together, daring each other at every fence where they took lengths out of their rivals. They were a match made in heaven and I loved watching him ride him.
There have been times that Richard has won a race and given a horse a fabulous ride and when he’s got off in the winners’ enclosure and I’ve said what a great ride it was in front of the owners, he’s told them it was all down to me and my team, not him! Unbelievably humble.
I also remember him riding for our Racing Club at Cheltenham on Viking Mistress – a day of a lifetime for some of the members, a runner at Cheltenham AND the Champion Jockey on board. She ran well to finish 5th and afterwards in the unsaddling enclosure Richard literally spoke to each and every member of the club that was there as if they were her sole owner. He simply could not have given anyone any more time it was incredible but something we all got used to with him.
Any young jockey wanting to succeed in our wonderful sport can do no better than watch how Richard conducted himself both in and out of the saddle. How we will all miss him riding, not just for us, but watching him on any horse. But he’s not looked 100% sound for quite some time and it’s fabulous he’s got out on his own terms. A real family man with a lovely family too, I’m sure he’ll enjoy spending plenty more time with all of them and certainly deserves to put his feet up for a while, although I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to do that!
Thanks so much for all the memories Dickie, you are an absolute credit to our sport and we all wish you a very happy retirement.