Riding legend Johnson bids tearful farewell, one week before Grand National

London (AFP) –


Two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey Richard Johnson burst into tears as he announced his retirement with immediate effect on Saturday, just a week before the one iconic race to elude him, the Grand National.

The 43-year-old Englishman was AP McCoy's greatest rival during the Northern Irishman's era of dominance.

Johnson finished runner-up to McCoy 16 times in the champion jockey title race.

However, once McCoy retired Johnson seized his opportunity and won the title on four successive occasions (2016-2019).

He retires after 28 seasons in the saddle having ridden 3,819 winners, second only to record holder McCoy.

He announced his retirement after finishing third on Brother Tedd at Newton Abbott -- the same horse he rode to victory on McCoy's final day in the saddle six years ago.

"After nearly 30 years in the saddle, the time has come for me to retire," he said.

"Thank you for every cheer, every shout of encouragement, it's given me enormous strength over the years. I am so very grateful to you all."

McCoy and Johnson are close friends despite their intense rivalry and the former paid a handsome tribute.

"Sometimes those who challenge us the most teach us the best," said 20-time champion McCoy on Twitter.

"You did both to me for over 20 years. I will be forever grateful to you, thanks buddy.

"When you go home tonight look in the mirror you'll see what a champion looks like.

"Enjoy your retirement."

- 'Ultimate role model' -

Johnson's two Gold Cup successes came in 2000 on Looks Like Trouble -- who retired to Johnson's farm -- and then a bold front-running ride on Native River in 2018.

He won the other two races considered to constitute the 'Holy Trinity' at Cheltenham, the Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster in 2003 and the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles in 2002.

In all the jockey, affectionately known as 'Dicky', rode 23 Cheltenham Festival winners.

The Grand National, though, like with so many other legendary jockeys such as John Francome and Peter Scudamore, slipped through his fingers.

He finished runner-up twice in his 21 rides -- which is a record -- on Whats Up Boys (2002) and Balthazar King (2014).

Johnson rode Native River into fourth place in last month's Gold Cup but it has been a tough season with no hope of regaining his champion jockey's title.

Indeed it is the first season he has failed to break the 100-mark in quarter of a century.

Johnson enjoyed a lot of his success with Brother Tedd's trainer Philip Hobbs, who described him as "an amazing role model."

Harry Skelton, who is in a battle royal with 2020 champion Brian Hughes for this season's jockey's title, said Johnson's human qualities transcended sport.

"Words wouldn't be able to describe how good a person Richard Johnson is," said Skelton.

"He is the ultimate role model to any human in general life not just a jockey."