Where are they now?: Ernie Johnson

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TWICE in four years, Ernie Johnson was a central figure in racing's most prestigious race, the Derby.

In 1969, he slipped up the inside to steer Blakeney to victory, while three years later on Rheingold he lost out by a short-head in one of the memorable Classic finishes, to the Lester Piggott-ridden Roberto.

'When I won it on Blakeney he was ideally suited to the course, both temperament-wise and action- wise,' Johnson remembers. 'But Rheingold, though his temperament was good, wasn't suited by the track, which beat him as much as Roberto.' Johnson, though, was also beaten by Piggott performing at an unmatchable intensity. 'Lester was at his best, and when he's at that point there's no one better in the world.'

Over 20 years on and now in his mid-40s, the former champion apprentice and one of eight current jockeys to have passed the 1,000- winner mark, is in quieter waters. After spells in Ireland and Singapore his home base of trainers dried up, and Johnson has ridden just 11 winners in the last four years.

'But don't make it out as a sadness story because that's not the way it is,' says the man who will probably watch tomorrow's Derby on television. 'I'm just doing what I enjoy and happy going from day to day. At least I've won a Derby.'