Richard Johnson: ‘A great friend as well as a rival’ [H&H VIP]

AP McCoy’s decision to retire would have been an extremely difficult one.

Obviously he couldn’t go on forever, but he’s riding as well as he ever has. Even if he had retired on Saturday he’d still be champion this year — he’s set a high benchmark for us all.

You could tell by his interview that it was hard for him and that he was quite emotional.

There is never going to be the right time to retire, but this was clearly right for him — it will stop the reporters asking the same question over and over, for one thing. It wasn’t a massive shock to me, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d kept going for another year or so. However, he’s had problems with his weight and as you get older, unfortunately, your body finds it harder to take the falls.

To be at the top of any sport for 20 years is incredible, and I can’t see it happening in any other sport.

On a personal note I will miss riding against him and sitting next to him every day. I’ve been second to him 15 times, but my approach won’t change next season. I always start each year trying to be champion jockey — it’s all I ever want to do. Realistically I’ll have more chances without being up against AP but there are a lot of jockeys riding really well.

Everyone will be sad to see him go, but it does open the door to a more competitive championship next year; he’s dominated for two decades. Currently, if there is a decent spare ride going, AP will pick it up. In future, more people will have the opportunity to claim those.

I’ve sat next to him for so many years, and unfortunately for me without him I’ll now be sat next to the door [where the most senior rider sits], so I’m ready to be pushed out of it next!

It will be a shock to the system next season. He’s a great friend as well as a rival and I have enormous respect for him. It will certainly make my life easier on the racecourse, although so there are two sides to the coin. No doubt I’ll have many others snapping at my heels, so I’ll have to up my game.

He’s made every other jockey for 20 years ride as competitively as they can; his determination is second to none and he’s been a massive boost for the sport.

Come April there will be a huge celebration of his achievements. I can’t believe there would be a sports writer in the world who wouldn’t want to cover his amazing career.

I imagine he’ll still be involved in the sport in the future as well, maybe with television and radio, so he will still be a face for the sport.

A dramatic Saturday

I was very impressed with Coneygree in the Denman Chase. He’s a horse I’d never sat on before, but I was really taken aback by his jumping. He’s done a lot of showjumping training at home [the trainer’s son Alfie is a showjumper] and they are being rewarded. He was very neat and deserved to win.

It was great to see Denman ahead of the race named in his honour. A lot of people appreciated seeing him and he looked really well. It’s fantastic seeing a horse enjoying his second career so much.

He was known as the Tank and he’d clearly lost none of his enthusiasm when he powered along in front of the stands under Charlotte Alexander.

Sire De Grugy’s comeback — and fall — was overshadowed by AP’s announcement. He seemed to be going smoothly for the first mile and a half and Jamie seemed happy. But he stumbled at the fourth last and then unshipped Jamie at the next fence.

I know the Moores think he’ll come on for the run, and there’s no way he’ll turn up at Cheltenham at anything less than 100%. But it’s ups and downs in this sport, and it was nice for the Moore family to have the winner of the Betfair Hurdle later in the day. It was probably the biggest winner of Josh’s [trainer Gary’s son] career, and after the disappointment and worry that would have made a welcome high.

Ref: H&H 10 February, 2015

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