With Tony McCoy having finally ended his long wait for a Grand National at the fifteenth attempt in 2010, the mantle of “best jockey not to have ridden the winner” falls on the shoulders of Richard Johnson. When Quinz was pulled up after bursting a blood vessel last year it was the 15th consecutive failure in the race for Johnson. This now puts him equal with Jeff King for the most rides in the race by a jockey who never won the Grand National. Although he has been at the top of his profession for many years with over 2,000 winners to his name, the presence of Tony McCoy has also been deprived Johnson of a jockeys championship.
In 2002 he rode What’s Up Boys, a talented grey, and was three lengths clear at the elbow only to be caught by Bindaree in the final 75 yards of the race. The chances have come and gone over the years and things did not look good for this season when leading fancy Beshabar, on whom Johnson won the 2011 Scottish National, was withdrawn through injury. Richard Johnson won the Conditional Jumps Jockey championship in 1995 and made his big breakthrough as a professional in 1999, when he won the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Anzum for David Nicholson. Further success followed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Looks Like Trouble (2002), Flagship Uberalles in the Champion Chase (2002) and Rooster Booster in the Champion Hurdle (2004).
Johnson’s hopes for this year now rest on Planet of Sound who is trained by Philip Hobbs. Plans for a tilt at the Grand National were drawn up when the 10-year-old gelding finished an excellent second to Carruthers in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November, the same race in which Beshabar sustained his season-ending injury. Planet of Sound was given his final Aintree preparation at Kempton in February when finishing third to Nacarat under a big weight. The horse certainly has the class to make his presence felt as he has been mixing it with the best for several seasons. His biggest win came in the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2010 when his victims included Gold Cup winners War of Attrition and Denman. On the face of it, Planet of Sound has plenty on his plate with 11st 5lb. He is only set to receive 5lb from the Gold Cup winner, although he is now officially rated 10lb lower than his highest mark of 166.
Johnson has been runner-up in the jockeys title race on no fewer than 13 occasions to the legendary Tony McCoy. How fitting it would be if he could also follow him into the Grand National winner’s enclosure.