A graduate from the point-to-point field, Richard Johnson rode his first winner under National Hunt Rules, Rusty Bridge, trained by his grandfather, Ivor, in a hunters’ chase at Hereford on April 30, 1994. In 1995/96, under the tutelage of the late David Nicholson, he succeeded A.P. McCoy as Champion Conditional Jockey, at the age of 18.
However, A.P. McCoy was Champion Jockey for 20 years in succession and, for 16 consecutive years, Johnson had to settle for second place behind his contemporary. Of course, Johnson enjoyed plenty of success, gaining just reward for his loyalty to a small band of trainers, including Nicholson, Philip Hobbs, to whom he has been stable jockey since 2000, Henry Daly and Tim Vaughan.
In 1999, he rode his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Anzum, trained by Nicholson, in the Stayers’ Hurdle and, a year later, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Looks Like Trouble, trained by his now father-in-law, Noel Chance. In 2002, he won the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles, trained by Hobbs and, the following year, won the Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster, also trained by Hobbs. In so doing, he became one of just three jockeys still riding – the others being Barry Geraghty and Ruby Walsh – to have won all four ‘championship’ races at the Cheltenham Festival.
Nevertheless, Johnson remained largely under the radar and, for a long time, looked destined to become the best jockey never to win the jockeys’ title. That was, of course, before McCoy retired at the end of the 2014/15 season. In 2015/16, Johnson enjoyed his most successful season ever, numerically, with 235 winners – including Native River, trained by Colin Tizzard, in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree – to become Champion Jockey for the first time. In January, 2016, he also reached the landmark of 3,000 winners, on Duke Des Champs in a novices’ hurdle at Ascot.
In 2016/17, Johnson enjoyed further high-profile victories on Native River in the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh Grand National, before finishing third on the same horse in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He also won the Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle and the Triumph Hurdle on Defi Du Seul, finishing the season with 189 winners to take the jockeys’ for the second year running. In 2017/18, Johnson rode 176 winners, including Native River in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, to become Champion Jockey for the third consecutive year, and continue an unbroken run of 22 seasons in which he had ridden over a hundred winners.