A look back at David Johnson’s contribution to Jumps Racing

For the second time in less than a month, the racing world is mourning the loss of another legend. As I’m more of a Jumps Racing fan, I got to know Sir Henry Cecil later than David Johnson but both deaths have left a huge hole which will be very hard to fill. Some of my first memories in racing came from Johnson’s recognisable blue and green silks with horses such as Challenger Du Luc who is remembered for being one of the most enigmatic characters of his era. He famously threw away the King George when refusing to pass See More Business on the run in. Then there was Or Royal who similarly would have his going days with his finest hour coming in the 1997 Arkle which was one of four victories in the race for Johnson. The horse that made the colours stay in my mind was Cyfor Malta when he won the Topham Trophy over the Grand National fences in 1998 as a novice with a performance that still makes the hairs stand on the back of my neck whenever I watch it. At this time in racing, the domination of Johnson, Martin Pipe and Tony McCoy was just sensational to witness and with the amount of good horses that Johnson owned increasing, it ensured he became a well-known figure in jumps racing. From reading through Twitter, a memory that seemed to come up prominently was the Open meeting at Cheltenham at which Johnson’s horses excelled. His record of six Paddy Power Gold Cup winners will take some beating with two of those being ridden by McCoy with Cyfor Malta in 1998 and the wonderful mare Lady Cricket in 2000. The former was an unfancied 16/1 for the 2002 renewal with Barry Geraghty onboard; he went on to take a popular success in the race for a second time. Other successes in the race included Celestial Gold who went on to complete the rare Paddy Power/Hennessy Gold Cup double back in 2004 with two exceptional hold-up rides from Timmy Murphy that just brimmed with confidence despite troubles in his personal life. In his tribute to Johnson, Murphy said he rode with at least seven pounds in hand on his horses which was reflected through some of his most inspired rides. One of his finest was on Our Vic in the 2008 Ryanair Chase at the Festival. As consistent as Our Vic was, there was always an enigma about him, especially in his younger days where he would either win on the bridle or run a shocker. On this day, the tactics were to make use of his stamina with first time blinkers and Murphy duly delivered. He then went on to lower the colours of Kauto Star under yet another fine ride at Aintree three weeks later. Around the same time of Our Vic, Johnson owned the horse that was probably the best horse of his generation not to win a Queen Mother Champion Chase; Well Chief. He was extremely unlucky to come up against two exceptional champions in Azertyuiop and Moscow Flyer before injury intervened and falling when clear favourite in 2007. Two victories of his stand out. The 2005 Victor Chandler where off top weight, he beat Thisthatandtother giving him nineteen pounds and his demolition after a 22 month absence in the Game Spirit at Newbury where he beat Ashley Brook by eleven lengths. But the one day that will always stick in my mind was the 2008 Grand National which happened to be my first trip to Aintree when Comply Or Die came back from injury to win the world’s greatest steeplechase becoming the second winner for the Pipes after Martin’s success with Miinnehoma in 1994. Sadly due to the economic climate, Johnson cut down his numbers after that, but still enjoyed success as recent as this year’s festival when Salubrious won the Martin Pipe Conditionals Handicap Hurdle under a shared ownership with Andy Stewart. Johnson’s loss to the sport is huge, especially to Jumps Racing fans that grew up with those colours dominating Saturday afternoons. He will be sorely missed by all.