Champion jockey Richard Johnson on his 21 years of Grand National heartbreak

On Saturday, 6 April, champion jump jockey Richard Johnson will line up for the 2019 Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on the Philip Hobbs-trained Rock The Kasbah.

The leading jockey has not had a ride in the big race for the past two years, and it is still an accolade he is waiting to add to his trophy cabinet, having finished runner-up twice.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, people know the Grand National. So to say you’ve won it would be a dream come true,” said Richard during a video courtesy of Betway.

His first ride in the Grand National was in 1997 on Celtic Abbey.

“It was a big day for me, a day you dream about growing up, so to get a ride was amazing,” he reflected. “Sadly, I was unseated at Chair — it was a big disappointment.

“Somehow the horse got in too tight, and in those days the fences were even stiffer than today — he made a mistake and shot me into the air. It doesn’t get any better watching it now!”

Richard’s first second in the race came in 2002 aboard What’s Up Boys.

“We thought he could stay forever, and it sounds silly but the race couldn’t have gone any better,” he said. “We jumped upsides [eventual winner] Bindaree at the last fence and set sail for home — thinking ‘I’m going to win the Grand National’. We got to the Elbow and I thought I had the race in the bag, but then I felt What’s Up Boys weaken underneath me. I sensed Bindaree coming upsides us and it was probably the worst 100 yards I’ve ever ridden.”

In Monkerhostin in the 2007 Grand National, Richard thought he had the perfect mount for the world-famous steeplechase, but it wasn’t mean to be.

“He was a very intelligent horse, but the Grand National just wasn’t for him and he didn’t take to the fences at all, refusing at the fifth,” added Richard.

Richard’s other bout of seconditis in the big race came on Balthazar King in 2014.

“We were going to the last fence following the eventual winner, Pineau De Re,” he said. “I knew Pineau De Re didn’t do much in front and I thought we’d get to him — but the reality from the last to the Elbow was that the winner wasn’t stopping.

“Going up the home run, you’re just praying your horse has the extra zest and energy to get to the winning post. Unfortunately, none of my rides have done yet.”

The top British jockey didn’t have a ride in either the 2017 or 2018 Grand Nationals but returns this year on Rock The Kasbah.

“Not having rides for the past two years has been disappointing,” he said. “Obviously I want to be in the race, but I want to be riding the right horse.

“All through last season, we thought Rock The Kasbah was a National type and his Cheltenham win in November put him in the picture. To win the Grand National is a burning ambition of mine.”

Don’t miss our Grand National preview in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound — on sale Thursday, 4 April.

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