Monday 5th April, 2021
We knew the day was coming but we didn’t dare ask him, because if you know Dicky Johnson, you just wouldn’t. However when the great man announced his retirement on Saturday, there was an outpouring of emotion for a man who has quite simply proved to be one of the greatest sportsmen that this country has ever produced.
Strangely enough, only a few hours before his last ride at Newton Abbot, I was thinking what would be the text I would send him when he finally called it a day. It would have to be by text because he would be too bashful a man for you to say it face to face. Well the text I sent was on the lines of:
“I’ll say this only once, you’re not only a great credit to racing but also to humanity. To consistently be at the top of your game and never change from being a polite, honest, courageous, smiling and professional rider – makes you one of the great sportsmen, never mind jockeys. You are a credit to your parents.”
This says much but not all. I first met Richard Johnson when presenting him with a trophy as a 16-year-old at a local point-to-point awards in Herefordshire. David Redvers had told me the new Richard Dunwoody was a man called Richard Johnson.
To echo the point, I legged him up on a horse called Gambling Royal which David had purchased from Ascot sales. Ironically the horse had had his day at the top, whilst the young man onboard was just beginning his.
I believe he has ridden me a winner every year since 1998, until covid got in the way. Like many, I could easily write a book about the wonderful adventures that we have been on with many winners, including a Cheltenham Festival victory.
In that time, I only saw him lose his temper once and that was on a golf course. He also rollocked me one day when our horse got beaten in a photo at Huntingdon, for expressing my rather sick humour.
As ever, Dicky was right and he taught me a lesson like he has taught many in that if you are a thoroughly decent, hardworking, loyal, humble, diplomatic, with a professional attitude – you can rise to the very top and stay there for as long as you like.
He is an example to all and his achievements should be shouted from the rooftops and may his retirement be long and happy.