Richard Johnson: the end of an era [H&H VIP]

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  • What AP McCoy has achieved in his career is second to none but Saturday marked the end of an era.

    His send-off at Sandown was done to perfection, apart from maybe riding a winner but that was the one thing out of his control — even he can’t make horses run faster than they’re able to. On a personal level, we’ve forged our careers together and I couldn’t have wished for a better friend over the years.

    When he announced his retirement back in February, I was surprised at how soon it came. But these past couple of months have been fantastic for the sport and for the man himself — he has really been able to shine as a person. I think the public’s image of him has been as hard and driven, which he is.

    However, people have been finding out — whether through the media or at the races — what he’s like as a person, not just as a jockey. We’ve always known it in the weighing room but now the public can see that, too. Not many professional sportsmen have that opportunity.

    He gave everyone their time and he’s been such a great role model.

    Seeing the huge crowd come out to see him on Saturday was something I’ve never witnessed and doubt we’ll ever see again. Everyone played their part in his final farewell and it was a very special occasion. Even I had a lump in my throat after I won his last ever race — it was a moving moment after all the times we’ve raced together over the years. But it was a strange feeling to come back in to the winner’s enclosure, particularly while the crowd were out there cheering for AP in front of the stands.

    When he came back into the weighing room and sat on the scales for the last time, he was sprayed with a huge amount of champagne. AP is completely teetotal but I reckon he had at least half a glass down his throat by the end of it. We share an agent, Dave Roberts, and he never usually comes into the changing room but he was there when AP took his silks off for the very last time — unless, of course, he makes a comeback…

    In with the new

    We may have had to say farewell to AP but we saw the next generation coming through, with Sean Bowen crowned champion conditional jockey, just beating Nico De Boinville in a brilliant race for the title. I started my career riding for Sean’s father Peter Bowen — Sean wasn’t even born then — and he was instrumental in getting me where I am now. But seeing Sean win the big race on Saturday highlighted just what a talent he already is. He’ll be one of many young jockeys now snapping at my heels.

    So the season is over and I finished second behind AP McCoy once again, but from the Paddy Power meeting in November through a dream three days at Cheltenham to the finale at Sandown it’s been one of the best ever. Philip Hobbs has consistently provided me with good horses, but it’s all a result of the huge team behind the scenes and it’s the same in every yard in the country. They all help us do what we jockeys love doing and I can see why AP will miss it so much.

    Ref: H&H 30 April, 2014