Johnson has been touched by the widespread support from racegoers
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
AFTER 22 years of trying and on a tide of goodwill, Richard Johnson will be crowned Stobart champion jockey at Sandown on Saturday at the climax of a season in which he confessed the support from racegoers had left him overwhelmed.
After riding a winner at Chepstow on Friday evening, Johnson has amassed 234 winners, the fifth-highest seasonal jumps tally of all time and enough to see him finally cradle the trophy he has always craved in an achievement he described as the highlight of his career.
“This will stay with me forever, even when I’m in my slippers and can’t get out of my chair,” said Johnson, 38, as he prepared for his momentous day backed by a family entourage of wife Fiona, daughter Willow (seven), sons Caspar (four) and Percy (three), parents Sue and Keith, and brother Nick.
“To have my family there, to have my wife, my children, my mum and dad and my brother there, that will be the most special bit for me,” he said. “My children will be able to look back and remember when I was champion jockey.
“And if I have any grandchildren they can say that old man over there rode a few winners once.”
Waited longer than two decades
There have been more than 3,000 winners, in fact, in a career that would have seen his name engraved on the trophy multiple times but for the presence of Sir Anthony McCoy.
Yet it is that perseverance to win the crown that has generated so much of the public respect for Johnson, who feels the long wait has made today all the sweeter.
He said: “This is my dream, what I’ve wanted for the last 22 years. It’s the highlight of my career. I’ve started every season wanting to be champion and it’s not happened, but in a weird way it’s really made me appreciate this year when I’ve finally done it.
“On a daily basis the support from racegoers has been unbelievable, at Cartmel, Perth, Stratford, Cheltenham, everywhere. I’ve been quite shocked by it. The goodwill has been amazing. It’s been the best 12 months of my career. I couldn’t have wished for more.”
‘I’m just a small cog in this’
Seventy-nine of Johnson’s winners have been provided by Philip Hobbs, but he has been successful for 40 other trainers in Britain this season, with Jonjo O’Neill, Tim Vaughan, Charlie Longsdon and Gordon Elliott the most fruitful sources.
He said: “My agent, Dave Roberts, all the owners and trainers, my driver, my wife Fiona who runs my life – I couldn’t have done it without them. They have all been amazingly supportive. I’m just a small cog in this. It’s been a big team effort.”
Don’t miss the Richard Johnson special edition of RPSunday with tomorrow’s newspaper
var $facebookBlock = $(‘#facebook’);