Richard Johnson joked “I had no idea I was so popular” as he enjoyed his first day of retirement from racing riding yesterday.
The 43-year-old shocked the sport when quitting the saddle with immediate effect after drawing a blank from six mounts at Newton Abbot on Saturday.
No sooner had the four-time champion jockey broke the news than tributes flowed from across the racing world.
“I haven’t had a chance to read all the messages,” said Johnson, whose haul of 3,824 winners is second only to Sir AP McCoy in the all-time list of jump jockeys.
“People have been very kind. I had no idea I was so popular!”
A 23-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Johnson considered calling time on his career at last month’s four-day meeting – but chose instead Newton Abbot, where he shared so many victories with his Minehead-based boss, Philip Hobbs.
“I didn’t want to do at Cheltenham if I hadn’t ridden a winner because whoever won the Gold Cup, that was their day,” added the ex-jockey, who on no fewer than 16 occasions finished second to 20-time champion McCoy in the race for the riders’ crown before finally winning it in April 2016.
“The small tracks are as important to me as the big tracks – they were were I started, and they have given me so much.”
Johnson, who captured the Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Looks Like Trouble in 2000 for his future father-in-law Noel Chance and Native River in 2018 – he was awarded the OBE in 2019 – now plans to be “a normal father” after spending 27 years in the pursuit of winners.
“I haven’t been around like a normal father,” Johnson who has children Willow, Caspar and Percy with wife Fiona.
“We have the farm at home, and lots of horses, but the family is the most important thing now.
“They come first.”
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