Richard Johnson rises to the top of the tree

Imagine being one of the greatest competitors your sport has ever seen, only to spend the best part of two decades in the shadow of an all-conquering champion. Until last weekend, that is exactly what jumps jockey Richard Johnson had to endure, finishing runner-up in the season-end standings to Sir Anthony ‘AP’ McCoy 16 times until the twenty-time champion retired at the end of last season. If AP had, for one reason or another, never started riding, we would surely be talking about Johnson as the best of all-time.

Now, finally he has received the recognition he deserves. Yet, for a man who has spent so long in the shadow of a recognised sporting icon, he seemed as humble as ever when collecting the trophy at Sandown Park on Saturday. He referred to the victory as a ‘team effort’ and paid tribute to agent Dave Roberts, to AP and the trainers who have supported him and to his family. The forceful effect of this ‘team’ was shown again in all its glory during racing that day, when Johnson rode the Philip Hobbs-trained Menorah to a third success in the Oaksey Chase, his 235th and final winner of the season, with Aidan Coleman in second on 130. And what of the threat of Coleman and his weighing room colleagues to Johnson’s crown next season? The new champion has already spoken of his hunger to defend the championship next season, and with competition starting again as early as the following Thursday, he will have precious little time to recuperate before the riding, the travelling and the winning begins once again.

Elsewhere in jumps racing a thrilling trainers’ championship also came to an end on Saturday, with Paul Nicholls emerging victorious for the tenth time in eleven seasons. He saw off a late effort from pre-eminent Irish handler Willie Mullins to win by just under £100,000, a small sum of prize money in the grand scheme of things, with the placing of Just a Par and Southfield Theatre in the Bet365 Gold Cup accounting for almost half of that sum. Mullins was bidding to become the first Irish trainer to win the British trainers’ title since Vincent O’Brien in 1954, but as it stands the Emerald Isle’s wait for a champion in the UK goes on.

John Gibby 

Featured image: The Telegraph 


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