‘It would have been great to win but I couldn’t be happier’

Why Amlin jockey and two-time Grand National runner-up Richard Johnson is philosophical about last weekend’s near-victory in the world’s greatest steeplechase.

Richard Johnson could not have been blamed for feeling downhearted after finishing second in the 2014 Grand National on Balthazar King – after all, it was not the jockey’s first time to come so close to winning the Aintree spectacular. Twelve years ago Johnson had also been runner-up on What’s Up Boys, finishing just behind Binderee.

But the 36-year-old rider said after this year’s running, “Balthazar King gave me 200 per cent. He is a fantastic horse. I thought we had a good chance going to the Elbow and he gave his all. It would have been great to win but I couldn’t be happier.”

Indeed, Johnson was the first to give his friend Leighton Aspell a congratulatory slap on the shoulder after Aspell’s mount Pineau De Re had passed the winning post five lengths in front. Balthazar King, a 14-1 shot had jumped the Aintree obstacles well and ran a superb race. Tony McCoy’s mount Double Seven was behind in third place.

Johnson’s supporters had been given a pre-Grand National boost when, in the race just before the big one, the jockey’s renowned strength in a finish was shown again when Duke Of Lucca powered home in a tight finish to a £60,000 contest over fences.   The wait for victory in the world’s greatest steeplechase goes on for Johnson but he is philosophical about the challenge. “It’s one of those races where you take your chance and see what comes.”

But the emotions of being second again were eased by the 36-year-old knowing he had been having had an excellent run of success in the early months of 2014, up to and including the Cheltenham Festival in mid-March.

In the Cotswolds this year, the Hereford-born rider had struck on the second day of the Festival, winning the £50,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Balthazar King. The finish was one of the most thrilling of the four days, with Johnson conjuring a final thrust from his well-backed mount to defy runner-up Any Currency by the narrowest of margins.

The following day, Johnson was again popular with Festival punters when Fingal Bay justified favouritism in the Pertemps Network Final Hurdle. It meant a successful campaign at National Hunt racing’s ultra-competitive annual championships for both Johnson and his principal stable, Philip Hobbs’s, near Minehead in Somerset.

Johnson has now ridden 19 Cheltenham Festival winners and, notably, 11 years ago became the first jockey to have ridden all four major championship races at the Festival, when steering Rooster Booster to lift the Champion Hurdle in 2003. This added to the rider’s victories in the 2000 Cheltenham Gold Cup on Looks Like Trouble, the 2002 Queen Mother Champion Chase with Flagship Uberalles, and Anzum in the 1999 Stayers’ Hurdle.

Source: Amlin World

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