Richard Johnson: no way I'm giving up my crown without a dogfight

Richard Johnson, who is enjoying his second-most prolific season and has the 200-winner mark firmly in sight, had words of warning for any pretenders to his champion jockeys' crown on Wednesday when outlining his hunger and desire for a fifth title next term.

On Saturday Johnson will be recognised as Britain's premier jump jockey for the fourth successive time, while on Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of his first winner under rules - Rusty Bridge at Hereford.

However, rather than reflect on his achievements and rest on his laurels, Johnson is still consumed by the daily quest of riding winners and securing more titles.

Richard Johnson's most prolific seasons

235 2015-16
197 2018-19
189 2016-17
186 2003-04
176 2017-18

"My main ambition was to try to retain the championship, so we've managed to do that and it's fantastic," said Johnson, who is on 197 winners this term and 3,620 British and Irish jumps winners overall - 728 shy of Sir Anthony McCoy's career total of 4,348.

Johnson is priced between 2-1 and 6-1 to overhaul McCoy, but his immediate aim is another double century before the jumps season draws to a close this weekend at Sandown.

But then the scoreboard is reset and it is all about starting over in the hope a fifth Stobart-backed championship will find its way onto the mantelpiece at Johnson's Herefordshire home.

"I'd love to get to 200 by Saturday," continued Johnson, boosted in that desire by a double on Wednesday at Perth, where he has four rides on Thursday.

"There's a bit of work to do before that, but it's always my main ambition to be champion, and to do that again is a big highlight.

"I might be at Punchestown for a day or two next week, and I'll be back to it a week on Saturday and hopefully find somewhere to get off zero and start all over again."

Richard Johnson's most productive partnerships this season

53 Philip Hobbs
32 Gordon Elliott
21 Olly Murphy
15 Henry Daly
12 Warren Greatrex/Tom Lacey

The 41-year-old, who was made an OBE by the Queen in December, last month bid farewell to fellow weighing-room stalwart Noel Fehily, but has no such designs on following his former colleague's lead yet.

"I'm loving what I do and lucky to have great support from lots of people," said Johnson.

"Noel decided it was the right time to retire, but I can't see any reason why I can't carry on for a good bit longer. When you get older, people always start to mention those things and that topic comes up, but it's not something I'm thinking about and the main thing for me is hopefully getting a good start again from Saturday week, and doing the same as what we've been doing the last few years."

A fast start will help Johnson fend off threats to his position as jump racing's clubhouse leader, and he added: "There are lots of young lads riding well and riding lots of winners, so I've got to concentrate on each day and riding as many winners as anybody else.

Richard Johnson's best courses this season

18 Perth
14 Fontwell 
13 Ludlow
12 Exeter/Stratford

"Harry Skelton, with the support of his brother Dan, has had a fantastic time and I'm sure they'll be hitting the blocks as soon as the new season starts again.

"All the championships are hard, but Harry will be there and Sam Twiston-Davies has also had a great season considering he didn't have the support of Paul Nicholls.

"There's Brian Hughes and Sean Quinlan, who's also doing really well, up north, while there's a huge amount of young talent - Sean and James Bowen - who'd love to be in my position, so I'm going to have to work hard to be champion again.

"This is what I've only ever wanted to do, so to do it, and enjoy it, is fantastic."

Johnson readily acknowledges the importance of the support he receives not just professionally but personally, and said: "I'm very lucky to ride nice horses all the time. This is what I love doing and I've probably had the best 25 years I could have imagined. I've got great support at home as well; Fiona and the children.

"It'd be very hard if they weren't behind me because I'm away a lot, but they're very supportive and keen for me to do well, and see me become champion."

Seeing him become champion again was never in much danger this season, though Skelton has enjoyed much his best campaign, his 177 winners to date helping to propel brother Dan past the 200-winner mark.

"I've had my second biggest number of winners in a season, so I'm delighted and it's a massive thanks to everyone who's supported me and helped me get there," said Johnson.

"It's always nice to have a good number of winners and I've been very lucky to have my second-most amount, which reflects on a very good, consistent season."

Johnson's best tally was 235 in 2015-16 and his fruitful campaign has, in part, been down to the resurgence of his biggest supporter Philip Hobbs.

"It's nice Philip's horses have been in great form again," added one of the weighing room's most popular members.

"They were under a bit of a cloud last season and it was frustrating for everybody, but he's bounced back with a great season, he had a Cheltenham Festival winner, and hopefully the nice young horses we had this season can go on.

"Philip's fantastically supportive of me and such a gentleman to work with. For him to have a below-par season was disappointing and I'm pleased to see the yard have such a good season this time round.

"I've had a huge amount of support from lots of other trainers, while my agent Dave Roberts has kept me busy and kept the momentum going all the way through."