In a wry sort of way, the name of the horse who carried Richard Johnson to his 2,000th career success at Newbury was entirely fitting. Fighting Chance was the beast who delivered the landmark but, although the man from Herefordshire will keep fighting in his pursuit of the one laurel still to elude him, the jump jockeys' championship, while one Tony McCoy is around he has no chance.
Johnson is only the second rider in his sport's history to have reached yesterday's total, after McCoy, who left it behind five years ago and stormed past 3,000 winners in February. He has been second in the title race 11 times in the past 12 seasons, to McCoy. Just about the only milestone he reached before his great rival, and good friend, was the magic first winner. Johnson's came on Rusty Bridge in April 1994; McCoy launched his tally in September the same year.
By any standard bar one, though, Johnson can be judged one of the finest jump jockeys ever to have grasped a pair of reins. And he appreciated the fact that it was McCoy who was back in second place as Fighting Chance, trained by Richard Lee, sealed his place as the answer to a quiz question in the two-and-quarter-mile handicap chase.
Johnson, 32, reached 1,999 at his local track on Sunday, then had to be patient after his sole ride on Monday finished last and Tuesday's chances at Folkestone were frozen off. "It was getting a bit frustrating," he said, "and I think AP was just being nice to me not going past me on the run-in."
McCoy, who actually did his utmost to thwart Johnson's big moment, was the first to congratulate his colleague and, as they rode back towards the unsaddling enclosure together, the broad smiles of both men, comrades-in-arms in an uncompromisingly tough sport and professionals at the top of their game, warmed the sort of cold, bleak, soggy winter afternoon that is sometimes mystifyingly called good jumping weather.
Johnson was bred and born into a life of horses and racing (his mother, Sue, trains a few at the family farm at Madley and his father, Keith, won a Midlands Grand National on Rusty Bridge's dam Bridge Ash as an amateur) and, under the tutelage of the late David Nicholson, became champion conditional jockey at the age of 18.
And although, because of an accident of birth timing, Johnson may have to carry the tag of being the best rider never to be senior champion, that is his only regret in being a contemporary of McCoy. "All of us would like to have the title, of course,"Johnson said, "and he's the mark we try to get to. He's raised the bar for the sport; we're all fitter, stronger and hungrier because of him. And he's a good friend and a fantastic colleague to ride against."
As well as yesterday's achievement (and before the end of the day he had taken his total to 2001 on Duke Of Lucca), Johnson has most of the calendar's big races on his CV, including a Gold Cup on Looks Like Trouble, a Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles, a Stayers' Hurdle on Anzum and a Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster. His assets are his strength, his horsemanship and an unflappable temperament. And it is always a treat to be within earshot of the articulate, incisive post-race analyses he invariably delivers to his mounts' connections.
Rooster Booster's trainer Philip Hobbs, the straightforward, likeable Johnson's long-time boss, summed it up concisely. "He is massively reliable and loyal," he said, "and just a very, very good fellow to be around."
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Sagalyrique (2.20 Exeter) Always well regarded, had his attention focused by cheekpieces last time and, with the emphasis again on stamina, can build on that success.
Delcombe (12.50 Exeter) Coped with demanding conditions when springing a surprise two weeks ago and his very capable young rider's allowance will help offset his subsequent rise in the ratings.
One To Watch
Do It For Dalkey (Miss Lucinda V Russell) remains well handicapped after success at Carlisle last month.
Where The Money's Going
Advisor (P Nicholls) is now generally 20-1 for the Triumph Hurdle after winning at Newbury yesterday.
Chris McGrath's Nap
King Red (4.00 Wolverhampton).Reuse content